"Take Five!" Research Process  pg. 2

While the above slide show is about
evaluating online information, much
of it applies to any source in any format.
Research Process 1 | Research Process 2

Task 4: Evaluate Information. Not everything we read is generally accepted as correct, especially when using the Web. Traditional print sources (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) have editors and publishers that work with authors to be sure information reflects standards.

This doesn't mean that the information is "better" or "more true." It means that we can easily identify sources and judge the quality of these source based on the publisher's reputation. Savvy information users evaluate ALL information they find based on:

  1. Accuracy. The first step when evaluating is to be sure that information generally agrees. This is why starting a research project by looking at the reference section in a library is a good idea.
    • Basic information and concepts should be the same from source to source. If not, be careful.
    • Sources that contain errors, even many "typos," should be used with care. After all, if a source did not take the time to verify the basics and present it in reasonably correct form, why should anyone believe the rest of the information in that source.
    • Always look to see if a source is advocating and idea or contains bias. Be careful when a source has an "agenda" or strong point of view. The information may or may not be good. It is likely that the information does not fully present other points of view.
  2. Authority. Why is this source qualified to give you information? Are they an "expert?" If so, are their credentials clearly identified? Are they affiliated by another organization, company, or institute? If so, is there bias?
    • Can you tell who is the publisher? This is easy with traditional print sources, but can be difficult on the Web.
    • Is there contact information? Does the author indicate that they are open to hearing from others or fielding requests for clarifications or additional information?
  3. Content. What type of information is being presented and how does the author intend the information to be used? Does the author identify any limitations for their work?
    • Who is the intended audience? Students should be careful that sources are appropriate for their grade level.
    • Is the purpose of the information to inform, advocate, or sell? This usually determines it completeness. In general, sources that only seek to inform present a more balance view than those that promote ideas or sell products and services.
  4. Currency. Information has a time value -- even historical information get reviewed and revised over time. Just because an idea was generally accepted in the past does not mean it is accepted today.
    • Some information can come from older sources and still be valid. Try to find current information.
    • Dates of birth and death and some other types of facts are likely to be accurate even when a reliable source becomes old.
    • Be careful, some information from older sources has little or no value today. Traditional print sources clearly identify when they were published -- be careful with Web pages. If you cannot identify the date that a site was created or updated, it is probably not a good source. Check the links on a Web page; if they do not work or are not being kept up to date, the rest of the information is probably not being updated either.
  5. Documentation. Even when a site is accurate, has authority, is content appropriate, and current; be sure to look for documentation where the author obtained their facts. When a source intends to inform, the author usually identifies their sources or resources for further study.
    • Does a source contain a bibliography or identify the sources that were used to create a resource? Does this list of sources appear fairly comprehensive or balanced?
    • Are the sources that were used to create a resource also reasonably current? If other Web pages are part of the list of sources, are they still working links?

Task 5: Document Sources. Keeping track of where information comes from is an important part of the research process. Representing the work of another person as your own is plagiarism -- it is stealing. Students can expect to be disciplined or receive failing grades if they plagiarize. It is also possible to be sued. Like every other law, copyrights demand compliance. Using someone else's work without permission or under "fair use" without citing the source if a violation of intellectual property rights. For more information about copyrights, check out the copyright issues link at Breitlinks.

On a more positive note, documenting sources when conducting research makes the job easier. Few things will be more frustrating than having to go back and find the original source from some fact, figure, quote, or piece of information AFTER deciding to use that material in a project. It is much easier to keep track of where ALL information comes from BEFORE starting to create a project. Keeping track of sources while gathering information will also make it easier to go back and review good sources to pick up more good information. Always carefully document the sources that are used when researching. p>

Teachers often have expectations as to what types of sources are valid for a term paper or presentation. Many projects, especially those done in school, will have standard formats to organize and cite information. If a format is specified, it will be helpful to write down source documentation in the required format -- this will make it less likely that a given resource will need to be looked up again because important information is missing. The most common formats for documentation are MLA and APA.

Whether taking notes on note cards, paper, or computer, clearly identify where information comes from, carefully including all information that will be required to cite that source. Be sure that you know what format you will use to cite sources or create a bibliography. This will make it less likely that you will forget important information that is required to properly cite your sources.

Conclusion. Do you see that our "Take Five!" research process is designed to help clarify an information need before actually conducting a full-scale search. Before you fully decide on a topic; be sure to do some preliminary research, after all, it will be much easier to create an interesting topic when you check your understanding before committing yourself to an extensive research project. Our process focuses on defining needs and then finding sources.

We have chosen to omit how this information is used to create a specific project, because once we have defined a need, located appropriate resources, and documents our resources, we are ready to put that information to work creating any number of projects. Just remember, sometimes things do not go as planned. Our process is presented as a set of tasks, not a series of steps. At any point, the research process may require us to reevaluate our topic, sources, or how we have evaluated them.

Research Process 1 | Research Process 2