These days, almost everything you need to complete your research assignments can be found online. But knowing if you should even use what you find isn’t always straightforward. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered with information about:
- developing your topic
- improving your search strategy
- evaluating your sources
- using information
If you still need assistance, stop by our Information Desk, give us a call or send us an email.
- Choose your topic.
- Select a topic that either interests you, you have questions about or you’d like to know more about.
- Consider the scope of the topic and your assignment requirements.
- Picking your topic IS research
- Choosing a manageable research topic
- Find background information.
- Use handbooks, encyclopaedias, dictionaries or your textbook to become familiar with a topic.
- Make note of key ideas or concepts, terminology, relevant names or dates and relevant geographic areas or demographic groups.
- Finding and using background information
- Mapping your research ideas
- Narrow your topic.
- Answer questions about your topic with the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why.
- Brainstorm ideas about the topic. Use idea maps.
- Freewrite your ideas and make connections to ideas of interest.
- Use a pyramid chart to organize your ideas from broad to narrow.
- Use a target diagram, writing narrower ideas in each outer circle.
- Narrowing your topic
- Develop a research question.
- The research question must focus your research and cannot be too narrow or too broad.
- It should have multiple answers or opinions that require an explanation or defence.
- Select a question that interests you as well as others.
- Developing a research question
- Developing a research question
Using the right words
Using the right words in your search helps return more results that you’ll find useful. Here are some tips to select the right terms:
- select search terms from your thesis or research questions
- think of synonyms or related terms
- consider abbreviations, acronyms, plurals, alternate spellings and technical terms
- add more terms as needed and connect them through Boolean operators
Combine search terms
Mixing and matching different terms can help return search results that you may not have found with your initial searches. Use the tips below to improve your searches.
You may be required to use peer-reviewed articles as a source for your research paper. This refers to material that has gone through an academic review by a panel of academics or experts in the field before being published. Books do not undergo the same rigorous process. Use the guide below to determine if the information is scholarly.
Trade journals such as Nursing Times or Advertising Age are published by professional or trade associations and are aimed at practitioners of those professions or trades.
Scholarly vs popular sources: The information cycle
The CRAAP test
*sourced from California State University Chico
The CRAAP test can help you determine if information is reliable. Keep in mind that the following list is not static or complete; different criteria will be more or less important depending on your situation or need. To determine if information is reliable, ask questions about:
Currency: The timeliness of the information.
- When was the information published or posted?
- Has the information been revised or updated?
- Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
- 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 elementary or advanced for your needs)?
- Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
- Would you be comfortable using this source as a research paper?
Authority: The source of the information.
- Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
- Are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations given?
- What are the author’s qualifications 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 (i.e. .com, .edu, .gov, .org, .net)?
Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the informational 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 your own personal knowledge?
- Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
- Are there spelling, grammar or other typographical errors?
Purpose: The reason the information exists.
- What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
- Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
- Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
- Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
- Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
It is important to use the information you find appropriately. Use the links below to understand plagiarism, citations styles and Lethbridge College’s copyright policy.
What is plagiarism (Brock University)
Lethbridge College Student APA Guide
Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab: Research and citation sources (APA, MLA, Chicago)