Information is all around us, but finding good research sources can be challenging. This tutorial will help you search effectively and evaluate the information that you find.
What you will learn
In this guide, you will learn:
Why some aspects of information can make it difficult to find appropriate sources
Use the arrows below to navigate through the tutorial, or click the Contents button at the top right to skip to another section.
The amount of information available to us can be overwhelming. Everyone is creating and sharing information all the time - including you and me!
Take a look at this infographic.
According to this graphic, how much video footage do YouTube users post in every minute of the day?
With so much information being created, it's no surprise that we sometimes struggle to make sense of it all.
Information is also complex because it’s unstable. New information sometimes challenges or contradicts existing information.
Let's look at an example of a "paradigm shift" that radically changed scientific knowledge: the "asteroid theory" that attributes the extinction of the dinosaurs to the impact of a meteorite or asteroid.
Go to this encyclopedia entry and find the paragraph beginning "Many hypotheses have been offered..."
Before the "asteroid theory", there was a lot of disagreement about dinosaur extinction. Which of these was NOT a proposed cause?
Many people in the scientific community rejected the asteroid theory at first. New information can be disorienting when it challenges the things we think we know.
Information can also be unreliable or misleading.
Have a look at this report from FactCheck.org:
Senator Harry Reid told the U.S. Senate that climate change is affecting black bears' hibernation patterns. What was the evidence for this claim?
We've seen that information is everywhere, it's growing rapidly, it changes, and sometimes it's unreliable.
What kind of information is appropriate for academic research?
This is a difficult question to answer. Any kind of information could be an appropriate source.
How about Twitter?
Tweets are not a source of scholarly information - or are they?
How might a scholarly researcher use tweets to learn something significant about our world?
Yes, even a tweet can be a useful source for scholarly research.
Many scholars use Twitter to communicate about new findings and new developments in their field.
And some scholars study large sets of tweets to look for patterns in communication.
This report describes how UVM researchers analyzed nearly 4.6bn tweets.
What did the researchers learn about Twitter users in the United States in 2009-2011?
Any kind of information could be an appropriate source for your research.
The crucial factor is context:
What is the question you want to answer?
What are the requirements of the assignment?
You can find appropriate information by evaluating specific characteristics in the context of your research needs.
We need to evaluate:
What makes a source relevant?
For academic research, relevance usually means:
Information that explains current knowledge about the topic. It's not an argument or opinion based on selective evidence.
Information that helps you understand the scholarly conversation: how knowledge about the topic has developed over time.
Let’s consider a specific question about species extinction: what are the causes of species loss among amphibians?
Read the abstract for these two articles.
Both articles focus on species loss among amphibians, but only one is directly relevant to our question.
Which one would be more helpful for understanding what scholars know about this topic?
For most research, it's essential to use up-to-date information. You don't want to overlook new discoveries and developments.
But what is "up-to-date"? It often depends on the subject.
Let's look at this graph on research on climate change.
A large amount of research on climate change has been done since 2005. (Remember "Information Overload" at the start of this tutorial?) A lot of information published before then may be outdated.
Compare this with scholarship on a topic like the "boom" period of Latin American literature. Researching a topic like this might require you to read sources published any time between the 1960s and today.
We've seen that any kind of information could be an appropriate source - but academic research usually requires you to engage with scholarly knowledge of your topic.
This webpage has interesting information about the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Is this a scholarly source?
You can learn more about distinguishing scholarly sources from popular sources in another library tutorial, The Place of Scholarly Articles.
Your selection of sources also depends on what you already know.
You need to work with scholarly sources ... but most scholarly information is written by experts for other experts, using advanced concepts and technical language. It might not be accessible for the non-expert.
You may need to build up your knowledge with information written for non-experts, like encyclopedia entries and magazine articles.
Look at this article: the first publication of the asteroid theory. (You may need to log in with your UVM NetID if you are off-campus.)
Who was this article written for?
Information can be complicated and overwhelming. This introduction to research has been a guide to finding appropriate sources. We hope it has given you confidence about doing scholarly research!
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UVM Librarians are available to assist you with your research. Ask a librarian for help!
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