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Research Tutorial

Information Access and Evaluation

You’ve done some great work so far, thumbs up!  Now we are going to look at information access and evaluation, another important skill for your research skills toolbox.

Information has many facets, and it’s important to understand how these components contribute to writing your research paper. Sometimes, you are looking for snippets of information that capture your thoughts or ideas. But when you access and evaluate resources you need to think deeply and critically about the resource you want to use to support your argument in your writing assignment.

Information resources come in a variety of formats, such as books, e-books, scholarly and peer reviewed articles, articles from trade magazines, newspapers, and, depending on your topic, streaming videos; audio files or blog posts.  But one thing they have in common is that they have identifiable attributes for you to consider. These attributes help you to determine if the resource is relevant to your topic.

So what are these facets?

  • The date the source was published or created.

    • If the article is not been published recently, you must ask yourself why you want to use it as a source. Is the material dated? Or does it offer some insight that warrants being cited (i.e., is it a classic in the field? a neglected contribution to the literature?)

  • The title of the source

    • Is this part of a larger source?
    • For example, is it a chapter in a book or e-book? Article in a journal or newspaper?
    • What about that source tells you this?
  • The type or format of the resource

    • Print Book
    • E-book
    • Article in a newspaper or trade magazine
    • Abstract
    • Book Review
    • Scholarly and peer reviewed article
    • Websites

There are a number of questions you should ask of these different formats. If your source is from a periodical, is that source considered credible, for example, a major newspaper such as the New York Times or Washington Post? If your source is from a trade magazine, does it offer a skewed perspective, based on its position in industry or ideology? Does it show bias? If from a website, where does the site get its facts? Does it cite scholarly articles, clearly indicate its sources? Have other credible sources questioned its objectivity?

  • The author or authors (it can be a person/s or even an organization)

    • What do you know about the author? (Where they work, what they do, other sources they’ve created, their relationship to the subject or topic?
    • What else might you find out about the author/s?

Once you identify these aspects, you need to ask some critical questions to evaluate your sources.

  • What is your source about? What is the author’s argument? If you can’t tell from the information that’s been provided, context or clues within the source will help you make a reasonable guess.
  • What would you say about the language used in the source? Is it difficult to understand or fairly simple?
  • Who do you think is the audience for your source? Why?
  • What about the visuals in your source? For example, are the images used to support the message, provide evidence, or give you information about the author? Are there images that distract?
  • Where or how would you get this source? Would you have to use technology to access it? Would you have to pay for it?
  • Remember that the PGCC Library Databases have been vetted by teaching and library faculty to ensure that the content meets the curriculum plan of the college. If you are using articles from a PGCC Library Database, you will never have to pay to access the article.

Now we are going to look at an article obtained from a library database about Black Lives Matter and see if we can consider access and evaluation of the article based on the criteria above. This article is from PsycARTICLES, a ProQuest database.

  • The article title is: “Participation in Black Lives Matter and deferred action for childhood arrivals: Modern activism among Black and Latino college students.”
  • The authors are: Elan C.Hope, Micere Keels, and Myles I. Durkee 
    • What do we know about the author/authors?
    • By clicking on the star like icon  you will find author information.
    • If you click on the hyperlink for the author’s name, you’ll find other articles that have been published by the author.
  • The article is published in the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. If you click on the name of the journal you will find out information about the journal.
  • The 9.3 (Sep 2016): 203-215; indicates that it is Volume 9; Issue 3, dated September 2016, pages 203-215

How can we tell that this is a scholarly and peer reviewed article? What components of this article indicate that this is a research paper? If you look at these components, you will find that they meet the test of a scholarly and peer reviewed research article. The article uses technical terminology, and it follows a standard research format: it has an abstract, a review of the literature, methodology, results, conclusion, and references.

So, after looking at this article, you have concluded that this is a peer-reviewed research article. Next you’ll need to evaluate the source. You’ll want to consider what this source is about. From reading the abstract above, can you consider through what lens or perspective might this author be writing?

First, look at the language in the article. Is it clear, concise, and easily readable? Based on the language, who do you think the audience is for this source? Students? Researchers? Is it for the average reader or for someone who might want to write a research paper?


Now let’s look at the article’s presentation of data. You will find four tables that report on the study:

  • Study Variables by Race
  • Black Lives Matter and DACA Involvement by Race, Ethnicity and Gender
  • Average Level of Political Activism
  • Predicting BLM and DACA Involvement

Do these tables help you understand the impact of study better? Why or Why not? 


Now let’s return to the language of the article and see if we can tell if this article pro-Black Lives Matter or not? How can you tell? Are there clues in how the abstract is written that help you to infer the author’s position? For example, does this statement from the article give you a perspective as to the direction of the article:

“Two 21st century sociopolitical movements that have emerged to counteract racial/ethnic marginalization in the United States are BLM and advocacy for DACA legislation. BLM activists seek legislative changes to decrease the negative (and often life threatening) effects of discriminatory practices in our justice and political systems."

Your analysis of the author’s attitude involves you interpreting the article’s tone. In the preceding sentence, the author does not use language to undermine BLM; it doesn’t say “claims to” or “reportedly” or “seemingly” in describing the impact of the movement. It does not use charged political rhetoric to suggest BLM’s worsens marginalization or to undercut its assertions about the level of discrimination.

Then you have to judge the usefulness of the source:

If you are writing about the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and activism, is this article good for your paper? Why or why not?

Let’s look at the abstract, where the article claims that:

“Political activism is one way racially/ethnically marginalized youth can combat institutional discrimination and seek legislative change toward equality and justice. In the current study, we examine participation in #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) and advocacy for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as political activism popular among youth.”​

First, determine whether the article may provide evidence to support your argument. This involves paying close attention to the article’s thesis and to its supporting evidence. What do you think the article is saying overall? What is the takeaway? How does it relate to your own argument? This involves considerable reflection on your part.

For example, does this statement argue your topic?

“Finally, scholars suggest that experiencing racial/ethnic discrimination likely contributes to greater participation in political activism as a mechanism to mitigate future instances of discrimination (Hope & Jagers, 2014; Hope & Spencer, in press)." 

That really depends on what your thesis is. You may find that this conclusion is too broad, and you may then refine your own position. In an engagement with scholarly articles, you may be forced to think more clearly about your own position.

Secondly, you must determine how much research has been done on this topic. Where does this article fit in the overall field of scholarship? You can’t simply assume that one article has vanquished all others from the field of intellectual battle. In this analysis, you must examine the article’s limitations: What wasn’t included or what was missing from the article? Have you seen other articles that challenge the author’s perspective? Do you want—for example—to see evidence of political activism actually leading to change? Or is the article’s claim too weak? After all, the sentence above simply says it’s one way to seek change, not the most effective.

Remember, research is a process. You want to find the best scholarly articles not only to support your own claims, but to challenge your assumptions and help refine your conclusions. As we’ve seen, that involves determining whether an article appears in a respectable scholarly journal—as citing weak and unprofessional sources destroys your credibility and offers no real challenge. Instead, you should exercise your analytical and argumentative skills on the best scholarship available. 


Library Terms

It's important to understand library terms in order for you to do your research. If you have questions about the terminology used in the tutorial you can check this Glossary of Library Terms.

Abstract:  A summary or brief description of the content of another long work. An abstract is often provided along with the citation to a work.

Annotated bibliography: a bibliography in which a brief explanatory or evaluate note is added to each reference or citation. An annotation can be helpful to the researcher in evaluating whether the source is relevant to a given topic or line of inquiry. The Cornell University Libraries provide an online guide on How to Prepare an Annotated Bibliography or try the OWL: Online Writing Lab at Purdue University

Archives: 1. A space which houses historical or public records. 2. The historical or public records themselves, which are generally non-circulating materials such as collections of personal papers, rare books, Ephemera, etc.

Article: A brief work—generally between 1 and 35 pages in length—on a topic. Often published as part of a journal, magazine, or newspaper.

Attachment: A separate file (e.g., text, spreadsheet, graphics, audio, video) sent with an email message.

Authentication: A security process that typically employs usernames and passwords to validate the identity of users before allowing them access to certain information.

Author: The person(s) or organization(s) that wrote or compiled a document. Looking for information under its author's name is one option in searching.

Bibliography: A list containing citations to the resources used in writing a research paper or other document. See also Reference.

Book: A relatively lengthy work, often on a single topic. May be in print or electronic.

Boolean operator: A word—such as AND, OR, or NOT—that commands a computer to combine search terms. Helps to narrow (AND, NOT) or broaden (OR) searches.

Browser: A software program that enables users to access Internet resources. Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox are all browsers.

Call number: A group of letters and/or numbers that identifies a specific item in a library and provides a way for organizing library holdings. Three major types of call numbers are Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Superintendent of Documents.

Catalog: A database (either online or on paper cards) listing and describing the books, journals, government documents, audiovisual and other materials held by a library. Various search terms allow you to look for items in the catalog.

Chat: A type of communication from person to person through typed messages, via computer or mobile device.

Check-out: To borrow an item from a library for a fixed period of time in order to read, listen to, or view it. Check-out periods vary by library. Items are checked out at the circulation desk.

Circulation: The place in the library, often a desk, where you check out, renew, and return library materials. You may also place a hold, report an item missing from the shelves, or pay late fees or fines there.

Citation: A reference to a book, magazine or journal article, or other work containing all the information necessary to identify and locate that work. A citation to a book includes its author's name, title, publisher and place of publication, and date of publication.

Controlled vocabulary: Standardized terms used in searching a specific database.

Copy card: A card that enables its user to print from a computer, or to make copies of a document at a photocopy machine. Student ID cards sometimes serve as copy cards.

Course management system (CMS): Integrated online applications that allow users to view and complete class materials and post messages, which facilitate discussion beyond the classroom. Also referred to as a “Learning Management System” or “Course Management Software.”

Course reserve: Select books, articles, videotapes, or other materials that instructors want students to read or view for a particular course. These materials are usually kept in one area of the library and circulate for only a short period of time. See also Electronic reserve.

Database: A collection of information stored in an electronic format that can be searched by a computer.

Descriptor: A word that describes the subject of an article or book; used in many computer databases.

Dial-Dial-up: A device using telephone lines that allows a computer to access the Internet or two computers to communicate.

Dissertation: An extended written treatment of a subject (like a book) submitted by a graduate student as a requirement for a doctorate.

Document delivery: A service that retrieves or photocopies information sources for library users. Some libraries restrict document delivery services to distance education students, faculty members, or graduate students.

DOI: Acronym for Digital Object Identifier. It is a unique alphanumeric string assigned by the publisher to a digital object.

Download: 1. To transfer information from a computer to a program or storage device to be viewed at a later date. 2. To transfer information from one computer to another computer using a modem.

E-book (or Electronic book): An electronic version of a book that can be read on a computer or mobile device.

Editor: A person or group responsible for compiling the writings of others into a single information source. Looking for information under the editor's name is one option in searching.

Electronic reserve (or E-reserve): An electronic version of a course reserve that is read on a computer display screen. See also Course reserve.

Encyclopedia: A work containing information on all branches of knowledge or treating comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge (such as history or chemistry). Often has entries or articles arranged alphabetically.

Flash drive: A small portable device for storing computerized information. A flash drive, sometimes called a thumb drive, can plug into the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port of any computer and store electronic information. See also Thumb drive.

Hardware: The physical and electronic components of a computer system, such as the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Hardware works in conjunction with software.

High-speed access: Refers to the speed and efficiency of an Internet connection—which determines how long Web users must wait for a particular Web site to load, or appear on their computer after they click on a link to it. High-speed access is usually achieved by using a DSL line (digital subscriber line) or a cable modem to connect to the Web, as opposed to a dial-up line which results in a slower connection speed.

Hold: A request to have an item saved (put aside) to be picked up later. Holds can generally, be placed on any regularly circulating library material in-person or online.

Holdings: The materials owned by a library.

Hyperlink: An image or a portion of text which a Web user can click to jump to another document or page on the Web. Textual hyperlinks are often underlined and appear as a different color than the majority of the text on a Web page.

Icon: A small symbol on a computer screen that represents a computer operation or data file.

Index: 1. A list of names or topics—usually found at the end of a publication—that directs you to the pages where those names or topics are discussed within the publication. 2. A printed or electronic publication that provides references to periodical articles or books by their subject, author, or other search terms.

Instant messaging (IM): An Internet-based service allowing real-time, text communication between two or more users. Instant messaging is also known as chat, especially when more than two people are communicating.

Interlibrary services/loan: A service that allows you to borrow materials from other libraries through your own library. See also Document delivery.

Journal: A publication, issued on a regular basis, which contains scholarly research published as articles, papers, research reports, or technical reports. See also Periodical.

Keyword: A significant or memorable word or term in the title, abstract, or text of an information resource that indicates its subject and is often used as a search term.

Learning management system: See Course management system.

Limits/limiters: Options used in searching that restrict your results to only information resources meeting certain other, non-subject-related, criteria. Limiting options vary by database, but common options include limiting results to materials available full-text in the database, to scholarly publications, to materials written in a particular language, to materials available in a particular location, or to materials published at a specific time. 

Link: See Hyperlink.

Magazine: A publication, issued on a regular basis, containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Microform: A reduced sized photographic reproduction of printed information on reel to reel film (microfilm) or film cards (microfiche) or opaque pages that can be read with a microform reader/printer.

Modem: A device that connects a PC to the Internet and converts digital signals from the computer to a form that can be sent using a voice (analog sound signal) telephone line and vice versa.

Mouse: A device that allows the user to move and click the cursor on a computer screen for different functions.

Multimedia: Any information resource that presents information using more than one media (print, picture, audio, or video).

Newspaper: A publication containing information about varied topics that are pertinent to general information, a geographic area, or a specific subject matter (i.e. business, culture, education). Often published daily.

Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC): A computerized database that can be searched in various ways— such as by keyword, author, title, subject, or call number— to find out what resources a library owns. OPAC’s will supply listings of the title, call number, author, location, and description of any items matching one's search. Also referred to as “library catalog ” or “online catalog.”

PDF: A file format developed by Adobe Acrobat® that allows files to be transmitted from one computer to another while retaining their original appearance both on-screen and when printed. An acronym for Portable Document Format.

Peer-reviewed journal: Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source. A peer-reviewed journal is also called a refereed journal or scholarly journal.

Periodical: An information source published in multiple parts at regular intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, biannually). Journals, magazines, and newspapers are all periodicals. See also Serial.

Permalink: A link that will return you to the same page every time you click the link.

Plagiarism: Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledging the original source.

Primary source: An original record of events, such as a diary, a newspaper article, a public record, or scientific documentation.

Print: The written symbols of a language as portrayed on paper. Information sources may be either print or electronic.

Proxy server: An Internet server that acts as a “go-between” for a computer on a local network (secure system) and the open Web. Often checks to determine “right of access” to the secure environment and speeds up requests by caching frequently accessed Web pages. Can also act as a firewall. See also Authentication.

Publisher: An entity or company that produces and issues books, journals, newspapers, or other publications.

QR code: Abbreviation for Quick Response code. A two-dimensional bar code that is made of small squares in a unique pattern. QR codes allow users to connect to additional resources through mobile devices.

Recall: A request for the return of library material before the due date.

Refereed journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Reference: 1. A service that helps people find needed information. 2. Sometimes "reference" refers to reference collections, such as encyclopedias, indexes, handbooks, directories, etc. 3. A citation to a work is also known as a reference.

Remote access: The ability to log onto (or access) networked computer resources from a distant location. Remote access makes available library databases to students researching from home, office, or other locations outside the library. See also

Renewal: An extension of the loan period for library materials.

Reserve: 1. A service providing special, often short-term, access to course-related materials (book or article readings, lecture notes, sample tests) or to other materials (CD-ROMs, audio-visual materials, current newspapers or magazines). 2. Also the
physical location—often a service desk or room—within a library where materials on reserve are kept. Materials can also be made available electronically. See also Course reserve, Electronic reserve.

Scholarly journal: See Peer-reviewed journal.

Search statement/Search Query: Words entered into the search box of a database or search engine when looking for information. Words relating to an information source's author, editor, title, subject heading or keyword serve as search terms. Search terms can be combined by using Boolean operators and can also be used with limits/limiters.

Secondary sources: Materials such as books and journal articles that analyze primary sources. Secondary sources usually provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in original research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs.

Serial: Publications such as journals, magazines, and newspapers that are generally published multiple times per year, month, or week. Serials usually have number volumes and issues.

Software: The programs installed on and used by the components of a computer system (or, hardware).

Stacks: Shelves in the library where materials—typically books—are stored. Books in the stacks are normally arranged by call number. May be referred to as “book stacks.”

Style manual: An information source providing guidelines for people who are writing research papers. A style manual outlines specific formats for arranging research papers and citing the sources that are used in writing the paper.

Subject heading: Descriptions of an information source’s content assigned to make finding information easier. See also Controlled vocabulary, Descriptors.

Thumb Drive: See also Flash drive.

Title: The name of a book, article, or other information sources. Upload: To transfer information from a computer system or a personal computer to another computer system or a larger computer system.

Uniform Resource Locator (URL): The unique address for a Web page which is used in citing it. A URL consists of the access protocol (HTTP), the domain name (, and often the path to a file or resource residing on that server.

User ID: A number or name unique to a particular user of computerized resources. A user ID must often be entered in order to access library resources remotely.

Virtual reference: A service allowing library users to ask questions through email, text message, or live-chat as opposed to coming to the reference desk at the library and asking a question in person. Also referred to as “online reference” or “e-reference.”

Wireless: The name given to any electronic device that sends messages through space via electric or electromagnetic waves instead of via power cords.

Zip drive/zip disk: Devices used in the creation of compressed (or “zipped”) electronic information.

Library Terms Flash Cards

Some people find using flashcards to be helpful for learning definitions. If so, check out the Library Terms Flash Cards.  

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users - Definitions

Multilingual Glossary for Today’s Library Users


If English is not your first language, then this resource will help you navigate the definitions of library terms in the following languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Vietnamese.