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
The type or format of the resource
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)
Once you identify these aspects, you need to ask some critical questions to evaluate your sources.
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.
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:
Do these tables help you understand the impact of the 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.