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CALS 458 AMCS 480: Research and Methdology

A guides for students in the CALS and AMCS Research Methods class or anyone conducting research in American Studies or Ethnic studies

Research is a Conversation

"...research is not just finding something that already exists, but an endless...process of discovery that creates knowledge...To 'research' is to encircle, and the object of that encircling is not to find but to define." - Reed Wilson

When you start a research project, you're entering into a conversation that, in many cases, has been going on for a long time. Other people have been thinking and writing about your topic, and your job is to listen to what they've said, and then to contribute something interesting back to the conversation. 

This video might help you understand how this conversation works. 

Learning about Qualitative Research

Tracking Citations

The best way to find out what's going on in a research conversation is to look at citations. Citations and reference lists show you who's talking to whom. 

When you find an article that is helpful for your topic, look at the reference list at the end of the article. This will tell you all of the previous "speakers" in the conversation the author is responding to. 

In some databases, you'll also be able to see which other authors have cited the article you're looking at: who has responded to the author in the conversation. Look for links that say "Cited by." 

Cited by (10). Documents with shared references (214)The "cited by" links are on the right side of the article in Sociological Abstracts. 

Google Scholar is a great place to find out who has cited a particular article. Under each article is a link that says "Cited by" and shows the number of articles that have cited the article you're looking at. Clicking that link will bring up all the citing articles. 

 

 

Evaluating Sources

A big part of an annotated bibliography involves not just reading your sources, but evaluating them to determine how credible the author is, how well the research was conducted, and how relevant the source is to your particular research question. 

Evaluation Questions

Unfortunately there is no easy checklist to consult to see if a source is credible or reliable. As with all information resources, the usefulness of the information may depend on what was needed in the first place.

Consider asking yourself some of these questions when evaluating a source:

Authority

Who wrote this?
  • Is the author clearly identified? What are his or her credentials for writing on this topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with an organization? What is the reputation of that organization?
  • Is there a link back to the organization's page or some other way to contact the organization and/or verify its credibility? (address, phone number, e-mail address?)
  • For websites: who publishes and/or is responsible for the website itself? Who has registered the URL?

Source

Who put this out there?
  • Where was this published?
  • How does the publication's authority affect the information's credibility?

Purpose

Why does this exist?
  • Are the purpose and objectives of the page clear?
  • Is the primary purpose to provide information? to sell a product? to make a political point? to have fun? to parody a person or organization or idea?

Accuracy

Do they give me proof?
  • Is the page part of an edited or peer-reviewed publication?
  • Does the content of the page convey the amount, depth, and significance of the evidence being presented? Are the arguments persuasive?
  • Can factual information be verified through footnotes or bibliographies to other credible sources?
  • Did you find this source using an internet search engine such as Google or Bing? They neither select the best pages nor filter out questionable ones, so you need to evaluate the choices carefully.
  • Based on what you already know about the subject (or have checked from other sources), does this information seem credible?
  • Are there obvious typos or misspelled words or other signs of sloppiness?

Currency

Is this up to date?
  • Is it clear when the information was published and when was it last updated??
  • When was the research conducted?
  • Is this the most recent version?
  • For websites, are the pages current?
  • If there are links to other websites, are they current?
  • Are there more recent events that might color the information's findings?

Audience

Who is interested?
  • Is it geared to a particular audience, or level of expertise, or geographic region, or period of time?
  • Is it a comprehensive resource or does it focus on a narrow range of information? Is it clear about this focus?
  • If it is an information database, are the dates of coverage clear and appropriate to your needs? Is it easy to search? Does it present information in a usable format?

Other items to consider:

Integrity of the Data

  • Is the source of any factual information clearly stated?
  • Are the source, scope and date of any statistics clearly labeled?
  • Is it clear whether or not the information as been excerpted from a larger piece?
  • Is there a way to tell if this is the most recent version of a particular piece?
  • Does the author rely on photographic images to make a point? If so, be aware that digital images can be easily manipulated.

Objectivity, Bias or Point of View

  • Does the page display a particular bias or perspective? Is it clear and forthcoming about its view of the subject? Does it use inflammatory or provocative language?
  • If the page contains advertising, are the ads clearly distinguishable from the content?
  • Is any conflict of interest discernable between content and advertising?

Adapted from Hammett, P. (1999). Teaching Tools for Evaluating World Wide Web Resources. Teaching Sociology, 27(1), 31-37.http://www.jstor.org/stable/1319243