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First Year Composition - Research Guide

Assessing Results

After searching a database or catalog, you will likely have a list of results. Here are some tips for choosing which books or articles to read.

Is it relevant for your research question?

What kind of source is it?

  1. Read the title. Is it about the subject you are interested in?
    If it is an article, look at the title of the journal or book.
    If you don't know some of the words in the title, you may want to look them up. This can also be a way to discover important keywords.
  2. Look at the subject headings.
    Knowing what discipline an article comes from can help you decide if the article is relevant. Look at the title of the book/article or the journal title to try to determine the subject area. For example, if you are researching global warming activism for a political science class, an article on global warming from a chemistry journal may not be a great fit because it is too technical, and not focused on political issues.
  3. If there is an abstract (a short description of the article), read it.

What type of text is it?

Academic databases and even individual issues of journals include many kinds of writing. Some databases classify whether a text is or is part of a book, a thesis, a newspaper, or a journal; others also include whether it is a review, a research article, an editorial, a literature review. Some databases will allow you to narrow your results by scholarly articles, but those will still usually include theses and reviews.

  1. A research essay or article shares research conducted by a scholar.
  2. A thesis is a long research work written by a graduate student.
  3. An editorial is a work meant to persuade and presented from a particular stance.
  4. A literature review tracks the scholarly conversation, assessing many publications in the field. These can lead you to other helpful articles or books.
  5. A review assesses another publication, often a book. The author will usually state their assessment of the book in the first paragraph. A review's summary and analysis will help learn if you should read a book.

When was it published?
For some research questions, it is important to use current materials. Citing current studies and data makes sure that you are accessing the scholarly conversation as it is happening now and helps you have more accurate claims. However, in some fields, older texts still play an important role. If you are uncertain, talk with your librarian or professor.

Types of Evidence / Sources

How might you use the source?

When you are deciding which works to read, it helps to think about what the work might help you answer. For example, if you are writing a paper about the effects of redlining: Does it help you define redlining? Does it provide oral histories of home-buyers who were discriminated against? Does it present an argument about how redlining undermined the ability for people to accumulate wealth?

A good research project usually uses a variety of kinds of evidence. One model of these types of evidence based on their use is BEAM:

  • Background sources help you get a lay of the land, define concepts, and identify actors.
  • Exhibit sources are primary source materials -- texts, data, photographs -- anything that is the object of study or assessment.
  • Argument sources are analyses on your subject; many peer-reviewed journal articles are this kind of source.
  • Method sources help you better understand how people do this kind of research, from a Marxist reading to an double-blind study, which can help you assess others work and form your own claims.