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How to Research

Just getting started on a research paper or project? Don't know where to start? This is the guide for you!

Introduction

Evaluate

Evaluate the information you've found to select what you will use for your research assignment

Video Tutorials by UAlberta:

Apply the CRAPP Test

Once you find information, you need to do some critical thinking to decide what to use for your research.

A good place to start is to see if it passes the CRAAP test.

The CRAAP Test is a series of questions to ask about any source of information.  The questions will help you decide whether your source is credible and appropriate for use in your research.

C

Currency: The timeliness of the information

  • Do you know when the information was published, posted, or last updated?
  • Is the information current for your topic and field of study?

R

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

  • Is the information appropriate for a college-level course?
  • Is this an adequately in-depth discussion of the topic?
  • Has Canadian perspective or content been provided?

A

Authority: The source of the information

  • Have the author's credentials or organizational affiliations been identified?
  • Is the author (or authors) qualified to write on the topic?
  • Has the piece been published by a well-known and respected publisher or organization?

A

Accuracy: The reliability and correctness of the informational content

  • Have the author's sources been clearly cited so that you can easily find (and verify) them?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

P

Purpose: The reason the information exists

  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Does the point of view appear objective, unbiased and impartial?
  • Does the author acknowledge alternative versions of the issues or facts?

 

Adapted from: The University of the Fraser Valley (2009). Evaluating information: The CRAAP test. Retrieved from http://www.ufv.ca/library/tutorials/craaptest.htm

Look at each of the sites below.

  1. Evaluate each and see if it passes the CRAAP test. 
  2. Click on Explanation to find out how we evaluated each site.

(Note: Each site will open in a new page)

A. Martin Luther King, Jr.

+ Explanation

 

B. Hospitals

+ Explanation
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Identify Scholarly Sources

If you are able to recognize the differences between a popular and scholarly source, you can focus your research to retrieve only the type of information you need.

 

 

Scholarly

Sources

Popular

Sources

Author

  • Written by researchers, professionals, or experts in the field
  • Author's credentials (e.g. MD, PhD) are listed
  • Written by journalists, reporters, freelance writers, and other paid staff

Audience

  • Advanced reading level
  • Researchers, students, academics, and professionals
  • Basic reading level
  • General public

Language & Length

  • Specialized or technical vocabulary
  • Topic is narrowly focused and research-based
  • Long articles: 5+ pages
  • Language is understood by almost anyone
  • General/popular interest topics and news items
  • Short articles: 1/2 - 5 pages

Review Process

  • "Peer-reviewed" or "refereed" articles are screened and approved by other researchers and experts in the field
  • Articles are reviewed and approved for publication by the magazine or journal's editor

Appearance

  • Often includes Abstract, Methodology, Discussion, Summary, Charts, Conclusion
  • Limited or no advertising
  • No set format
  • Attention-grabbing headlines
  • Lots of advertising
  • Photos

Location

  • Scientific, medical, and research institutions, libraries
  • Online and in print
  • Grocery stores, newsstands, bookstores
  • Online and in print

Citations & Bibliography

  • Extensive bibliography and citations/references throughout
  • Sources can be verified
  • Rarely any citations/references
  • Difficult to verify source of information

Examples

  • Journal of Botany, Journal of Canadian Studies, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Educational & Child Psychology
  • Alberta Venture, Maclean's, The Walrus, Popular Science, People, Where Calgary

Adapted from: Lucy Scribner Library. (2010). Scholarly vs. popular periodicals. Retrieved from http://lib.skidmore.edu/library/index.php/help-topics/35-help/69-scholarly-vs-popular-periodicals-characteristics

Adapted from: Nevada University Libraries. (2010). Distinguishing scholarly and popular articles. Retrieved from http://library.nevada.edu/inst/docs/distinguishing.pdf

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Understand Peer Reviewed

Peer review is a process in which an article is screened and evaluated by a panel of experts before it is published. Reviewers will evaluate the article for quality, credibility, and accuracy. 

If you need to find peer-reviewed articles, use the search options/limiters available in the database.

Peer-reviewed journals may contain information that is not peer-reviewed, such as editorials, opinions, or letters. Remember to evaluate specific articles. Check with your instructor to make sure you have the appropriate sources required for your assignment.

Usually a journal is peer-reviewed when:

  • It is published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society or association.
  • It has a list of reviewers or an editorial board of experts listed inside the front cover, back cover, or on the first few pages. This list can also usually be found somewhere on the journal's webpage.

If you have found your article online in an article database, you can check to see if the database has information about the journal to determine if it is peer-reviewed.

Alternatively, you can do an Internet search for your journal's name to see if the publisher's site has any useful information.

When in doubt, ask us at the library!

The peer review process can follow several different methods:

  • Blind/Double-Blind: neither author nor reviewer know each other
  • Open: both author and reviewer know each other
  • Anonymous: reviewer knows author, author does not know reviewer
  • Signed: author knows reviewer; reviewer does not know author

You can usually find out what kind of peer review is used by checking the journal's website.

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Read & Critique Scholarly Articles

Reading and critiquing scholarly research articles is a skill developed with time and practice.

As you read more within your discipline you'll likely discover patterns in the structure of the journal articles.  You'll also get more experienced at differentiating between good and bad articles.

Journal articles, particularly research articles in the sciences and social sciences, tend to follow a very similar structure.  You may see some or all of the following headings:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction or Background
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Don't feel that you have to read research articles from beginning to end. The best strategy may be to read the abstract and then skip to the conclusions section, in order to get a feel for the main points of the article.

While journal articles in the humanities don't usually follow the structure noted above, you will at a minimum still see an Introduction and a References or Works Cited list.

The following questions may be helpful in determining whether you are reading a good scholarly article:

  • Is the research question clearly stated (in a humanities paper, this will be the thesis statement)? Does it seem significant?
  • Has the new research been framed well within the existing research? In other words, is there evidence of a literature review and does it seem complete?
  • Is the researcher's methodology clearly laid out? Does it seem appropriate for the research problem?
  • Do the researcher's conclusions make sense, given the results reported or the evidence presented? Are there any inconsistencies? Any apparent biases in the data or evidence?
  • Have limitations to the research or argument been identified?
  • Does the References list appear accurate and complete?
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