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Research Guides

Essential Research Skills

This guide supports the Library's Essential Research Skills workshop series.

The Gut Test

When evaluating an information source, especially online information, remember the simple Gut Test-- your immediate first impression after an initial examination or reading of a piece of information.  

Consider whether or not the information is:

  • biased or has a particular agenda
  • factually inaccurate or treats opinion as fact
  • poorly presented, i.e. is it full of spelling or grammatical errors, etc..
  • or just seems "off"

…then it is probably not a reliable source of information for your assignments.

Using ‘Bad’ Information

But, sometimes "bad" information can be very useful, if you are using the information to illustrate a point, exhibit conflicting or mistaken opinions or to critically analyze it. However, if you use "bad" information, provide context to the information and clearly identify it within your paper. 

And one last thing:

Confirmation Bias

Beware of searching for or selecting information that confims your existing beliefs or opinions about a topic.

The CRAAP Test: A more systematic evaluation

Use the CRAAP Test to evaluate the quality and relevance of any information (print, online or other format) that you are considering for your assignment. 

Currency:  The timeliness of the information. 

  • When was it written, published, and/or last revised?
  • Are you looking at the most recent version?
  • If online, do all the links work?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Consider your audience and the intended audience of the information and compare with a variety of sources. 
  • Does it provide evidence or support your ideas?
  • Does it add anything to your work or would your assignment be just as good without it?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information

  • Who wrote the material? What are the author's qualifications?
  • Who produced or sponsored the information or what institution or organization are the author(s) affiliated with?
  • If there is a sponsoring organization, what is their purpose?
  • Is there an address to contact for more information?
  • If the material is protected by copyright, is the name of the copyright holder given.

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Is the factual information verifiable with complete references?
  • Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and other errors?
  • If statistical data is presented in graph or chart form, is it legible and clearly labeled?
  • Think about the source and look for evidence of bias or error.
  • Has the information been peer-reviewed or refereed?

Purpose: The reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? e.g public service, entertain, inform, opinion, propaganda, marketing, etc..
  • What is the intent of the author?
  • Does the information acknowledge other perspectives or conflicting information? Is it attempting to be objective?
  • Examine for political, religious, ideological, cultural, institutional or personal biases.

Crap Detection 101

  • Crap Detection 101 (blog post) - internet guru Harold Rheingold on determining the credibility of information found on the internet: "you have to think like a detective"
  • Companion video:

BEAM: Keeping writing purpose in mind

Different sources have different roles or purposes in the writing. Students often struggle with incorporating their sources into their writing, so it can be helpful to keep the role of the sources in mind when choosing what sources to use.

BEAM is one way to think about role and purpose:

B - Background - "for materials a writer relies on for general information or for factual evidence"

E - Exhibit - "for materials a writer analyzes or interprets;" examples

A - Argument - "for materials whose claims a writer engages"

M - Method - "for materials from which a writer takes a governing concept or derives a manner of working"

(Bizup, J. (2008). BEAM: A rhetorical vocabulary for teaching research-based writing. Rhetoric Review, 27(1), 72–86. doi:10.1080/07350190701738858)

Evaluating content

Eventually in the research and writing process, you will need to engage more deeply with the content of your sources. 

Some advice:

The Libraries have many books on discipline-specific research and writing. Try searching in the catalogue on:

  • [Discipline] Academic authorship
  • [Discipline] Research