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Research Tips: Finding & Evaluating Resources


Overview

Finding and Evaluating resources is a very important part of the research process.  The sections below will help you in learning more about finding Books, Articles, and Websites that will help you in your search.

Books

Books

A good place to begin your research is the Library Catalog, which is an electronic database of all material owned by the UB libraries. This includes books, DVDs, CDs, government documents, journal titles, musical scores and more.

Call Numbers

All books in the catalog are assigned a unique group of letters and numbers called call numbers. Call numbers are used to classify materials and tell you their locations on the shelf. The UB Libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System when assigning call numbers to books and other materials in the libraries.

Searching Overview

The UB Catalog searches using keywords that may represent a subject of a book, the specific title, or a specific author.  The catalog will automatically search all of these fields and retrieve the most results because it searches for the specific word(s) throughout the entire catalog.

Just make sure that you click on the word "Catalog" before you type in your keyword(s).


Here are some examples of searches - 

If you know a specific Title, just type it in:

This will yield results that have the words that you searched.  If the UB libraries owns the title, the first book that is in the list will most likely be what you are looking for.

If you know a specific Author you are searching for, just type it in like you did the title of the book you were looking for:

This will yield results that are associated to the author that you searched for.  Keep in mind, not all books will be written by this author; some books may be about them.  Scroll through the list to find exactly what you are looking for, or feel free to use the limiters on the side to show all books written by that author.

If you know a specific Subject you are searching for, type in the subject:

This will yield results that are associated to the subject that you searched for.  Scroll through the list to find exactly what you are looking for, or feel free to use the limiters on the side to show all books written by that author.


For specific searching tips go to the Creating a Search Strategy page.

To request books that are not available in the catalog use Delivery+.

Evaluating Books
You need to evaluate the information you are finding. It is an essential part of the research process! Consider these five criteria:

  • Authority: Who wrote the book? What are the author’s credentials? Who is the publisher? If the publisher is an academic press, this generally means a scholarly resource. 
    Tip: You can find this information on the title page of the book.
  • Audience: Who is the book written for? A specialized audience? Or a more general one? Is the focus appropriate for your topic? 
    Tip: You can sometimes locate this information in the preface of the book.
  • Accuracy: Does the information appear to be well-researched or is it unsupported? Is the book free of errors? 
    Tip: See if the author is footnoting information and providing a bibliography of sources consulted.
  • Objectivity: Does the book appear biased or is the authors viewpoint impartial? Is the author trying to influence the opinion of the reader? 
    Tip: Is the author’s viewpoint very different than others in the field? In that case you will want to examine the data and supporting evidence closely.
  • Currency: When was the book published? Is it current or out of date for your topic? In general, areas in the humanities don’t need up-to-the minute research while areas in the sciences do. Has the book been revised or is this a new edition? 
    Tip: This information is located on the back of the title page.

Articles

Articles

Articles are found in periodical publications, issued on a regular or "periodic" basis (daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly). These include newspapers, popular magazines, and academic or scholarly journals. Scholarly articles are usually the most appropriate source of information for academic research.

Searching for A Known Journal

If you know the periodical title, follow the instructions below.

Search the E-Journals by first clicking on the "E-Journals" tab and then doing a title search for the title of the periodical.  Do not search for the title of the article.

  • To locate the journal Scientific American, type scientific american
  • To locate the Journal of Marriage and the Family, type journal of marriage and the family

If you are having trouble finding the journal title, try searching it in the Catalog.  If you are still having difficulties, consult with a librarian.


Using Databases to Find Articles

database is a collection of organized data that can be used to quickly retrieve information. Most databases owned by the University Libraries are electronic periodical indexes of citations, abstracts, or full-text periodical articles from thousands of magazines, journals, newspapers, historical documents, or other literary works.

The University Libraries subscribe to over 300 databases and electronic information products. 

How Do I Select Which Database to Use?

To identify a database in your field of study go to the UB Libraries Research Guides page where you can find subject-specific databases recommended by UB librarians.

How Do I Search Databases?

All databases operate similarly, yet their interfaces may look different.  All databases use keywords as the search language.  More information about this can be found on the Creating a Search Strategy page.

The following video will show you how databases can be used in a general sense.

(Thanks goes to the Northeastern Illinois University Ronald Williams Library )

For Journals Not Available at UB

If the article or any other material that you are looking for is not available at UB, request the article through Delivery+.


Evaluating Journal Articles

Articles in databases have already been published and have gone through a review and editing process, unlike web sites. Regardless, it is still a good idea to evaluate them.  Make sure to look for the following:

  • Source - Look for articles from scholarly journals, written by experts in the subject. There will be references that can lead you to additional books and articles on the topic. In some databases, you can limit your search by type of article -- a research article, an editorial, a review, or a clinical trial.
  • Length - The length of the article, noted in the citation, can be a good clue as to whether the article will be useful for research.
  • Authority- Use authoritative sources in your research. Use articles written by experts in the subject area, and who are affiliated with an academic institution.
  • Date - Research in many subjects requires the most current information available. Is the article sufficiently up-to-date for your purpose?
  • Audience - For what type of reader is the author writing? If an article is written for other professionals, it will use terms and language special to the subject area.
  • Usefulness - Is the article relevant to your research topic?

Websites

Web Sites

Databases vs. Web

It is important to understand that the information found in databases such as Academic Search Complete or Factiva is not the same as the information found on the Web. A great deal of time, effort, and money is spent to purchase, collect, and organize the scholarly data found in these and other databases provided by the University Libraries. In contrast, because of its free and open nature, there is little to no organization involved in Web information resources. Therefore, many instructors will require that the Web not be used to collect information for research assignments.

Search Engines 
Search engines are the most common tools people use to search the Web. They are indexed by computerized "spider" programs that crawl through the Web searching for new Web pages to add to their listings. Most general search engines have millions of indexed pages which often leads to the returning of numerous records which may have nothing to do with your original search. Therefore, search engines are best used for specific references, general facts and information, or information about specific people or organizations.

Examples of general search engines include:

Basic Search Engine Tips

  • Read over the HELP screen of each search engine you use.  One of the main advantages of using search engines is their ease of use. However, each search engine has different options for searching. Therefore, always read the HELP screen and guides offered by each search engine.
  • Use quotations where applicable.  Most search engines support the use of quotations. When looking for a specific name, title, organization, or phrase encase them in quotations for more accurate results. For example:
    • "Fall of the House of Usher" - title
    • "quoth the raven nevermore" - quote
    • "Edgar Allen Poe" - name
    • "The Academy of American Poets" - organization
  • Use Boolean searching if there is more than one keyword, term, or concept needed. Boolean terms are conjunctions such as AND, OR, NOT which are used to connect concepts and construct search statements.  For more information about Boolean Searching, go to Creating a Search Strategy. 

Evaluating Web Sites
Anything can be published on the Internet, so it is extremely important to critically evaluate Web sites.  A helpful tool to evaluate resources on the web is the C.R.A.A.P. Test.  It is an acronym for the following:

Currency is the timeliness of the information. 

When evaluating this, always look at the following:

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance refers to the importance of the information for your specific needs.

When evaluating this, always look at the following:

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (not too elementary or too advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority refers to the source of the information, or authorship.

When evaluating this, always look at the following:

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL or domain reveal anything about the author or source?

Accuracy refers to the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content within a website.

​When evaluating this, always look at the following:

  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Where does the information come from?

Purpose is why the information exists on the website you are looking at.

When evaluating this, always look at the following:

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

For more information about how to evaluate websites using the C.R.A.A.P. test, please watch the video below.


(Thanks goes to the McMaster University Libraries)