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How to Do Library Research

This set of pages has information on how to do library research. In all cases, once you have located sources, be sure to evaluate them, using the evaluation guides.

Introduction to Evaluation Guides

This section hold several guides to help you understand how to evaluate various research materials.

How to Evaluate Books (also Spanish, French) How to Evaluate a Movie, Video or Film Clip (also Spanish)
How to Evaluate Journal Articles brief/detailed (also Spanish, French) Evaluation Clues for Online Articles (also French)
How to Evaluate a Web Page brief/detailed (also Spanish, French) Book Publishers (also Spanish, French)


Evaluation in General

When evaluating any type of resource, it is important that it be placed in context. Resources, in the majority of cases, do not exist in a vacuum. So when evaluating one item it is useful to compare it to related items.

  • What is it contributing to the overall subject as a whole?
  • Is this resource a novice to the subject could understand?
  • Or is it one to read after only after doing a lot of other reading?

Someone who is new to a topic will want to do background reading (Step 1 of the Research Strategy); background information is found in general and subject encyclopedias. So if evaluating an encyclopedia article one would consider whether or not enough information is supplied for further research: names, dates, events, locations, etc. Good background resources will provide time frames and vocabulary (along with correct spelling or alternative spellings) essential for later research steps--searching for books, articles, Web pages, etc. Is the subject animal, vegetable, or mineral? Is it organic or inorganic? Of Earth or space? If doing biographical research, is the person still alive?

So in the evaluation of a specific book, article, Web page, or film, is the particular item:

  • Something that one needs to be an expert to understand?
  • Something someone relatively new to the topic could understand?
  • Does it cover a specific aspect of the topic?
    • --and where does this aspect fit into the larger whole?
  • What would someone want to extract from the item to support a particular argument or point of view?

If your approach to your topic is political and current, but the resource at hand takes a different approach (historical, psychological, literary, etc.) it is not a resource you will want to use in that instance. There needs to be meaningful connections among all of the resources being used. You would not be discussing geology in a paper analyzing rhetorical terms, but geology might have its place in paper discussing a poem about mountains changing shape over time.

Always contextualize--is the resource at hand a primary source? A secondary source? Was it the first writing on the topic? Has it been cited frequently? You do not need to answer every one of these questions every time, but they should be considered.

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