Step 1: What Will You Look For?
Before you can begin searching for information in a print or online resource, you need to identify keywords related to your topic. A keyword is an idea or concept that describes your topic. You can brainstorm for keywords by reviewing:
- Your assignment and corresponding class readings,
- Encyclopedias and other articles used when conducting background research,
- Bibliographies found at the end of books and articles.
If you are still struggling, then try these suggestions:
- Use a thesaurus to identify synonyms.
- Find pictures related to your topic, then describe the picture.
- Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a classmate.
Identify at least three keywords to describe the main idea of your toipc and continue to build on the list throughout your searches.
Step 2: Where Will You Look?
Develop a Search Strategy
- What do I need to know about this topic?
- Does it involve researching people, places, events, or a particular time in history?
- How current must my information be?
- Do I need facts and statistics?
- Do I need a general overview of my subject, or a lot of detail?
- Is my topic controversial or still being explored? Will there be differing viewpoints in different sources?
- Do I need to find out both sides of an argument?
The kind of research sources you need will depend on your answers to these types of questions. In addition to books that are available through the library's physical collection, College of Marin also provides access to online databases, which include information such as magazine, newspaper, and journal articles. As you develop your search strategy, you will need to decide which resources will be best for your particular purposes.
Points to consider in determining your search strategy:
- Reference sources, such as encyclopedias, are a good starting place for an overview of your topic.
- If your topic requires you to get information from books, you will want to search the COM Library Catalog.
- Do you need to find current information on your topic? If so, you will want to search library databases for full-text magazine, newspaper, and/or journal articles.
- In addition to the above resources, you may also want to use Google to find information. Websites often provide valuable information, but you need to carefully evaluate each website and the information it provides.
Step 3: How Will You Know if it's Good?
When you search for information, you're going to find lots of it...but is it good information? You will have to determine that for yourself, and the CRAAP Test can help. The CRAAP Test is a list of questions to help you evaluate the information you find. Different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need.
Currency: The timeliness of the information.
- 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: The importance of the information for your needs.
- Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
- Who is the intended audience?
- Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too basic 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: The source of the information.
- 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 reveal anything about the author or source? Examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.
- Where does the information come from?
- Is the information supported by evidence?
- Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
- Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?
Purpose: The reason the information exists.
- 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?