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The Research Process: Step By Step

The following guide can help you navigate the research process using resources at the FIU Libraries

STEP 2: EVALUATE & DECIDE

Most college-level assignments expect you to take a critical view of all your sources, not just those you may have found online.   

It is always important to consider whether the authors of what you are reading are properly qualified and present convincing arguments. Because your time for careful reading is limited, try to skim through your sources first to decide whether they are truly helpful. Once you have chosen your best sources, read the most relevant ones first, leaving the more tangential material aside to use as background information.

Learning to identify scholarly (often known as "peer-reviewed") and non-scholarly sources of information is an important skill to cultivate. Many databases provide help with making this distinction.

Additionally, Ulrich's Directory of Publications is a database that can be searched to check to check the publication type (scholarly, refereed, magazine, etc).

If you are using the internet for research, it is especially important to evaluate the accuracy and authority of the information you find there.

REMEMBER: If you are using the internet for research, it is especially important to evaluate the accuracy and authority of the information you find there. Search engines, like Google, find web sites of all levels of quality. Keep these things in mind when deciding if a web page is reliable and appropriate for your research:

  • authority/credibility
  • accuracy/verifiability
  • bias/objectivity
  • currency/timeliness
  • scope/depth
  • intended audience/purpose

Always check with your instructor to find out if you can use free (non-Library) web sites for your assignments. And if looking for journal articles, library databases are the most efficient tool for searching.

STEP 1: EVALUATING RESULTS

Questions to ask

The information available on websites is not always accurate or reliable because anyone can publish almost anything they wish online. In order to use websites for academic and research purposes, they must be approached critically. Below are questions grouped by category that will help when critiquing the credibility of an online resource.

Author
  • Is the name of the author/creator on the page?
  • Are his/her credentials listed (occupation, years of experience, position or education)?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the given topic? Why?
  • Is there contact information, such as an email address, somewhere on the page?
Purpose

Knowing the motive behind the page's creation can help you judge its content.

  • Who is the intended audience?
    • Scholarly audience or experts?
    • General public or novices?
  • If not stated, what do you think is the purpose of the site? Is the purpose to:
    • Inform or Teach?
    • Explain or Enlighten?
    • Persuade?
    • Sell a Product? 
Objectivity
  • Is the information covered fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Is the author's point-of-view objective and impartial?
  • Is the language free of emotion-rousing words and bias?
  • Is the author affiliated with an organization?
    • Does the author's affiliation with an institution or organization appear to bias the information?
    • Does the content of the page have the official approval of the institution, organization, or company? 
Accuracy
  • Are the sources for factual information clearly listed so that the information can be verified?
  • Is it clear who has the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content of the material?
  • Can you verify any of the information in independent sources or from your own knowledge?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Is the information free of grammatical, spelling, or typographical errors?
Reliability and Credibility
  • Why should anyone believe information from this site?
  • Does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it unsupported by evidence?
  • Are quotes and other strong assertions backed by sources that you could check through other means?
  • What institution (company, government, university, etc.) supports this information?
  • If it is an institution, have you heard of it before? Can you find more information about it?
  • Is there a non-Web equivalent of this material that would provide a way of verifying its legitimacy?
Currency
  • If timeliness of the information is important, is it kept up-to-date?
  • Is there an indication of when the site was last updated?
Links
  • Are links related to the topic and useful to the purpose of the site?
  • Are links still current, or have they become dead ends?
  • What kinds of sources are linked?
  • Are the links evaluated or annotated in any way?