Conducting Research

14 Secondary Research

Finding Sources                                                   

When finding sources, you should ask experts for help in finding promising sources. These experts could include writing professors, librarians, and experts in the field of study you are interested in. It will also help to understand standard sources like the internet and newspapers.

Different Types of Sources

It is important to know the difference between the different types of sources. First you should be aware of the distinction between primary and secondary sources. In a primary, you will be looking at information firsthand and using that information to form your own conclusion. When it comes to secondary sources, you are using texts that are put out by others and relying on their own analysis. The other types of sources to distinguish between are popular and scholarly. A popular source is one that is written for a general audience. This would be something like a newspaper or magazine. A scholarly article is usually written for and by experts in a certain field. These articles are peer reviewed, increasing the credibility, but can be difficult to understand seeing as they are written in the language that experts of that field understand.

Internet Sources

Searching for Internet Sources

When searching the web for sources you should start out by clearly defining what the topic you are researching is. You should also decide on what search engine is going to be best for you to use. We tend to go straight to Google as our first choice, but even inside Google you have Google Scholar which can be much more useful for researching a topic. Also, never try to search for a topic or question using full sentences or questions. The best way to go about using a search engine is using keywords to refine your search. Using these tips should allow you to get a decent selection of sources to work with and evaluate.

Evaluating Internet Sources

Evaluating a source on the internet seems like an obvious thing to do, but it still helps to review what you should look for. Start with the author. Who are they? Are you sure that what they have written is credible? The internet is a very open place and always has people posting on it whether or not they have any qualifications to write what they do. Always look at the end tags on the website you are looking at. When you look at a page that ends in .edu or .gov you can almost certainly rest easy that the information you see is credible. However, if you do want to use a website ending in .com, you should be extra careful to verify the information and validity of the author. Also, you should try and find the purpose of the website you are looking at. We live in a very biased world and that can show through on the internet. Try to keep the information you use as neutral as possible. Steer clear of websites that any average Joe can gain access to as well. I am looking at you Wikipedia. Probably the most obvious thing is to just make sure the information you find is accurate. Look for things like factual errors, dated content, and inappropriate content. This step should get easier with the more research that you accomplish. Lastly, you can find out if your source is a good source by looking at the references they used to make their work. If they use bad sources there is a good chance they are not reliable.

Library Sources

Searching for Library Sources

Most libraries these days have a form of online catalog to use when searching for a source that you can use. Try using these catalogs by performing keyword searches, simply browsing, or searching the names of journals and magazines. All these should point you in the right direction in your search.

Evaluating Library Sources

There are a few ways to determine if your what you found in the library are good sources. First, you can read the introductory sections. These will give you a brief overview of what to expect later on in the writing. You can also look at the table of contents and the index. Doing so will allow you to see where the author puts most of their emphasis and whether or not they find what you are looking for to be important. Another good way to evaluate a library source is by looking at an author’s notes and bibliographic references. Doing this allows you to see who the author trusts in their field and will allow you to determine if their work is something you want to use. Lastly, if you still are not sure about using a source, try to skim deeper. Briefly look through content, such as headings and highlighted text, to try and determine if it may be of use to you. Remember that it should not take a long time to determine if a source is useful. You should be able to decide this in at most five minutes.

One last thing on sources. Remember that bad sources are not always useless sources. You can use a bad source to your advantage by showing where the bad source has gone wrong and ultimately strengthen the argument you are trying to make.

Threshold Values

Writing is often taught as a means for a person to communicate with others through the use of text. People view writing as a tool that allows them to communicate nonverbally. To many this is all that writing is. However, writing is much more than just a means of communication. Writing functions as a conversation. It can help generate ideas by pulling information from past works and very effectively communicate with a target group. The process of writing helps people formulate new ideas and think critically.

One of the most useful purposes of writing is that it helps generate thinking. When people write they are communicating their ideas and forming new ones. Writers aim to mull over a problem and think about it with others. They also explore new ideas or bring ideas together. Writing is not just a form of communication. The process of writing helps us develop new ideas instead of finding them. One way in which writing helps generate thinking is how texts refer to other texts. This helps the formation of new ideas. Intertextual networks can be formed because due to this which forms a conversation around a subject. These conversations form genres. Within these genres writers are able to write to specific audiences who are also involved in that genre. The combination of people exploring an idea and working together helps writer form new ideas and think.

Annotated Bibliography

Annotated bibliographies are a great tool to help you narrow down what material is most valuable to your research. It is a list of each of your citations combined with an explanatory paragraph called an annotation. The content of the annotation will be different depending on what style of annotation you use. The different styles highlight different areas within a source and you should use the method that best assists you in your research.

The first type of annotation is an Indicative Bibliography. This method is rather simple. To write this you must highlight what the source contains and identify the topic of the source. This method does not require you to evaluate the arguments or evidence presented within the source. When writing you annotated bibliography it is often time very important to understand what a source argues and the evidence it uses to support it.

The next form of annotation is and Informative Bibliography. To do this you must briefly state each work’s thesis and topic. Then you must denote the primary assertions and evidence used within the source. This method does not require you to analyze the effectiveness of the argument and the validity of the evidence.

The Informative Bibliography is the next type of method used to annotate. This method requires that you summarize the arguments and conclusions within a source. You should critically evaluate how effective the argument is. You should also write about the usefulness of the source, what its limitations and strengths are and how effective the research methods are.

The best way to annotate would to use a combination of the types. Using the informative and evaluative methods will help the most. Mixing the two will allow you to understand the source the best you can so that you can better determine how to use it. The best way to most effectively analyze a source is to use these two methods combined.

Writing an Annotated Bibliography

There are important reading strategies that you can use to effectively evaluate a source. These will help you understand your sources so that annotating will not be difficult.

  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the central question or claim?
  • What type of evidence is used? How valid is it?
  • How effectively has the author addressed the central question or claim?
  • Sketch out the main argument in a brief outline
  • What is known about the credibility of the authors?
  • Dates of publication, is the material current? Does it need to be?
  • Compare sources to others
  • How effectively is the source written?

License

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Writing @ Saint Leo by Chris Friend is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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