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UNIV 110 Online Course - Scholarly Inquiry and Research Methods: Lesson 5

Evaluating Resources; Summing Up

                                                                     
 
PART ONE - EVALUATING RESOURCES
 
The ability to evaluate resources for accuracy and believability is a crucial part of scholarship.
 
Task One
Read: http://www.virtualsalt.com/evalu8it.htm - Evaluating Internet Research Sources (includes CARS checklist) and go through the comments and links below.
 
It is crucial that we do a good job of evaluating the resources we have found in the process of research. Evaluation rests on two criteria - Is the quality sufficient and is the resource relevant to my research goal? It may be that quality is high, but if the resource doesn't speak to the purpose of your research, it isn't of much value to you.  Similarly, the resource may be highly relevant, but if it is unreliable as a source, then it's not wise to use it. The CARS checklist in the above reading is a good initial tool to make sure that you ask the right questions of the information you are evaluating.
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Take this example: You have come across a site that argues the moon landings were faked.  You might want to simply say the whole idea is nonsense, but let's do some assessment: 
 
http://www.ufos-aliens.co.uk/cosmicapollo.html - This site challenges the reality of moon landings.  What are the signs of bias, illogical thinking, and lack of scholarly authority? Do the old-fashioned graphics and style demand that you discount it?
 
Your first action in dealing with a new source of information should be to find out who created the resource (qualifications, possible biases, etc.).  In this case, we find two authors named near the end of the site - Andy Lloyd and Dave Cosnette - but neither name is hyperlinked, and there is no further information.  You can truncate the site by removing cosmicapollo.html from the end of it to make: http://www.ufos-aliens.co.uk/.  This gets you to the parent site - "Cosmic Conspiracies" - but it offers little, if any, information on the qualifications of the authors.  There is reference to a book by Stanley A. Fulham, a retired NORAD officer (not clear what his role was) and there is a Jeff Pearson who is a "retired research analyst" (whatever that is).  So determining qualifications is going to be difficult.
 
Next, you need to look at the information in the site (http://www.ufos-aliens.co.uk/cosmicapollo.html).  Here the claims made are less important than the evidence for the claims made.  Read through some of it and notice that, while there is a lot of argument based on logic, there is little, if any, concrete evidence.  Are the arguments convincing?
 
More seriously, would you use this site to support an argument that the moon landing was a hoax?  Would you use this site as a primary source to spell out the nature of the hoax argument as you wrote an essay to refute that hoax?
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A significant problem when we encounter any piece of information is "confirmation bias," our tendency to see everything through the filter of what we already belief and to reject anything that contradicts those existing beliefs. If we are truly not seeing the truth because we are prone to rejecting voices that contradict what we know to be true, are we actually researchers? Watch the following TED Talk and evaluate your own tendency to confirmation bias.  
 

 
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A significant element in evaluation is determining relevance.  Even if you have the most scholarly resource in the world, if it doesn't speak to your research question, it has no real value to you.  It is crucial that you keep your research question constantly in mind as you are choosing the books and articles you will use.  Ask yourself: Does this resource address my topic, but more importantly, does it address my question in some way?  How would I use this resource to help me advance toward an answer to my question?  A lot of student bibliographies have one of the following two problems:
  • Resources that are on the edges of the topic in the research question or only deal with a small part of the question.
  • Resources that are very different from one another.  Great diversity in the content of resources is usually a bad sign of a lack of relevance.

A further important factor in looking at the value of your resources is determining how well they reflect the conversation around your research question.  Is only one point of view reflected in your resources?  Do your resources tend only to favour the point of view that you approve?  Have you made sure you have representative works from all major points of view?  You want to make sure the conversation lives on in your research project.  Thus including all conversation participants is essential.

 
PART TWO - COPYRIGHT AND PLAGIARISM
 
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 (The table above looks at plagiarism rates in Wikipedia articles).
 
Two important but challenging issues in our use of information for research are copyright and plagiarism.  Overall, our use of information is limited by legal and ethical restrictions.  
 
Copyright
With regard to copyright, information that you want to use (even a free website) is protected by laws that prevent you from copying more than limited portions without permission.  In general, you are able to copy up to about 10% of a resource without seeking permission. (This, however, can only be done legitimately if you state what source you got it from).
 
Task Two
Read the TWU Library's information on copyright for students at http://libguides.twu.ca/c.php?g=284768&p=1897177​.
 
Plagiarism
 
Plagiarism is the use of someone else's words or ideas as if they were your own.  It is essentially misrepresentation - using the information provided by another author and causing the reader to believe it came from you.  This is a serious academic crime and can result in anything from a zero for a research assignment to expulsion from the institution.  
 
Task Three
Go through the following Google Slides presentation on plagiarism and be sure you understand what is and is not plagiarism.
 

You might also want to look at this presentation on plagiarism.
 

 
 
PART THREE - ORGANIZING AND OUTLINING
 
Organizing your resources is essential to making sure you can use them effectively in your research paper.  The textbook, Research Strategies, has a lot of information to help you with this.
 
Organizing Notes
 
Task Four
Go through the following presentation as a pictorial guide to organizing notes from your resources so that you can use them effectively.
 
 
 
Final Outlines
 
Outlining takes some fairly sophisticated skills.  The textbook, Research Strategies, devotes most of a chapter to it. There are times when research papers require assessment of several points of view on an issue.  The following presentation can help you with that.
 
Task Five
Go through the presentation: Outlines - Longitudinal and Cross-sectional
 

 

PART FOUR - THE FINAL RESEARCH QUESTION, OUTLINE AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

For the final assignment, you will be asked to provide a final research question, outline, and bibliography. This is essentially the task of going over and reflecting on the work you have done in assignments one to four:
  • Think about your research question.  Does it need to be clarified or refined in some way in order to make your goal clearer?
  • Develop your outline.  Get a final form for your main points and then decide on some sub points that will enable you to have a more mature view of the direction your project should take.
  • Cull from the resources you have identified in past assignments the very best books and articles, both by way of quality and of relevance to your research question.  In general, you should not have to go looking for additional resources beyond the ones you've already found through earlier assignments.
 

Professor William Badke