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The Research Process

In this research guide, learn the steps and strategies for an effective research process. Contact a librarian for assistance!

Evaluate Your Sources

You've searched various resources and have a set of sources that might be useful. In order to select the most reliable and accurate sources for your assignment, you'll need to spend some time evaluating them for how they fit with your thesis statement/question. The resources on this page can help you consider 1) how a source could be incorporated in your argument 2) how reliable and credible the source is and 3) which information will be most useful from the source. 

Types of Sources

"How do I decide which sources to use and why?"

As you locate sources, you should be evaluating them for how they can answer questions or support your arguments. 

Types of Information

Background: General information to provide context to your topic​

"Disinformation become a wide-spread problem when..."

Critical: Research and perspectives that go against your thesis​

"Social media platforms hold no responsibility for disinformation..."

Supportive: Research and perspectives that support your thesis​

"Policies should be created regarding disinformation & include..."

Evaluating Search Results (Especially on the web!)

Evaluating Online Sources

An important thing to keep in mind is that sources are not "good" or "bad" but exist within a certain context and can be appropriate or inappropriate for your need - especially an academic paper. 

Ask these questions to determine if sources will be P.R.O.V.E.N. useful & appropriate for your needs:

    • Why does this information exist—to educate, inform, persuade, sell, entertain?  Why was this information published in this particular type of source (book, article, website, blog, etc.)? Who is the intended audience—the general public, students, experts - & is their purpose clear?
    • EXAMPLE: A scholarly article's format is very structured and clear. Their intended purpose & audience is to share original research with other experts in the field of study. 
    • Does the information in this source answer your questions or support your argument? How detailed is the information? Is it too general or too specific?
    • EXAMPLE: You find a newspaper article on your topic. But it's only 3 paragraphs long and explains a specific event very briefly so will probably not provide enough details.  
    • Do the authors present the information thoroughly and professionally? Do they use strong, emotional, manipulative, or offensive language? Does the source present fact or opinion? Is it biased? Does it offer multiple points of view and critique other perspectives respectfully? Does it leave out, or make fun of, important facts or perspectives?
    • EXAMPLE: A magazine article online suggests that it has "the truth" about a topic and that others are trying to hide it from the public. This seems manipulative, does not provide any other points of view, and sounds like the author's opinions. 
    • Do the authors support their information with factual evidence? Do they cite or link to other sources? Can you verify the credibility of those sources? Can you find the original source(s) of the information or verify facts in other sources? What do experts say about the topic?
    • EXAMPLE: You find a health article about a new study that seems to go against current knowledge about heart disease. The article links to the study so you can go read it to check the conclusion as well as do another search to see what other experts are writing about it. 
    • What makes the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the source authorities on the topic? Do they have related education, or personal or professional experience? Are they affiliated with an educational institution or respected organization? Has the source been reviewed by an editor or through peer review?
    • EXAMPLE: A journalist interviews an expert in artificial intelligence (AI) for an article for an online magazine. The journalist is not an expert in AI but their expertise is in investigating, communicating, and asking questions of the AI expert who is educated & trained in that area. 
    • When was the information in the source first published or posted? Are newer sources available that would add important information to your understanding of the topic? Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as science, technology, or current events), or could information found in older sources still be useful and valid?
    • EXAMPLE: You're writing about the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression but you find an article from 2002. You have two choices - locate a more recent article about more current treatments or contextualize the information in your paper as an older treatment. 

P.R.O.V.E.N. Source Evaluation by Ellen Carey (6/18/18) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Look Outside the Source: Lateral Reading

"Can't I just look at the About Us page of a website?"

As sources have become more advanced and we seek more of our information on the internet, we must look for more context to understand what a source is about. Staying on a website to evaluate it may not provide the best information for understanding that source. Lateral reading helps us look deeper! 

Reading Scholarly Sources

"Do I have to read ALL of these articles?"

Many scholarly articles can be more than 10 pages long. But you don't have to read them from start to finish to determine if and how they could be useful for your information needs. 

Is this article scholarly?

If you need scholarly articles to meet the requirement of your assignment or if they are the best sources for your information need, you can use database features to help locate them effectively. 

1. Use the sorting function for Peer-Reviewed to limit to articles that go through that scholarly process.

2. Or check the box for Academic Journals to limit to both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed articles.

3. Within the search results, you will see icons with source types that help indicate whether they are Academic Journals. 

Screenshot of a search result page with the Peer Reviewed limiter circled to highlight and the Academic Journal icon circled to highlight and the Academic Journal checkbox limiter circled to highlight

Knowing When You Have Enough

Organizing & Reviewing Your Research

1. Before you start searching, decide how you'll store your articles:

  • Download PDFs into a folder
  • Keep a set of permanent links in a Word doc
  • Keep an Excel Research Log, etc. 

2. Don't read every source word for word right away. Read the Abstract, Intro, and Conclusion (and if you need more, the Discussion) to determine if it's relevant first.

3. Once you have a set of potentially relevant sources, do a thorough reading. Each person may have a unique way to digest content. Some ways include:

  • Highlighting important parts
  • Taking notes on a separate paper
  • Writing an annotation or paragraph that summarizes what they've read

4. When you've decided to use a source for your paper (or sooner!), collect the citation and add it to your Research Log or source list. 

"When will I have enough sources?"

1. Does your assignment have a specific number of required sources? Check your assignment for requirements. 

2. Have you answered all of the questions related to your thesis statement?

3. You've answered all your questions AND you're seeing the same concepts, themes, and answers over and over in your results. If you are using a Research Log (see Step 3), you can input your sources and see this more clearly. 

Screenshot of a spreadsheet with columns for Date, Where did I locate this source?, Source title, author and year, URL, and Summary

Before you move on...

At this point in your research process, you probably have a lot of ideas and a lot of sources and have maybe even written a bit of your paper, or an outline, to get some notes down. If you need help putting it all together, the Library and the Writing Center are here to assist you. You can make appointments or just stop at the Reference Desk in the Library or during Drop-In Hours at the Learning Commons.