Finding and evaluating Information
When looking for information for your studies or assessment tasks start by following these three steps:
- Understand your question
- Search for information
- Evaluate what you found
The information below will help you work through each of these steps and lead you to relevant and higher quality information sources.
How to do a topic analysis
Understanding your question
Before starting to search for information sources it is helpful to do a topic analysis to clarify and understand what you are being asked to do.
You will generally be given three key pieces of information in your assignment question:
- The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.
- The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
- The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content. CSU has a list of explanations for common instruction words.
To demonstrate let's look at an example question
Over the last five years social media has changed the way people communicate. Using research you have found online, argue for or against this statement.
|Qualifying words & phrases||last five years|
|Key concepts||social media, communicate|
After you have identified the key concepts have a go at brainstorming as many alternative keywords and phrases as possible.
Thinking about your topic in this way forces you to describe your topic in "other words", which will provide you with some useful keyword alternatives to use when searching for information as well as help you to cement your understanding of the question.
|Key concept||Alternative keywords or synonyms|
|social media||Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, social network|
|communicate||talk, share, converse, relate|
Google search tips
Effective internet searching
There is nothing wrong with using the internet for your research. The video above and the table below offer some tips on improving your searches to increase the relevance of the results.
Just make sure you evaluate your sources before you use them.
|Search for an exact phrase, or match||
Put your search terms in quotation marks
|Exclude a word from your search||
Put a dash - before any word you want to exclude
"social media" -Facebook
Use OR between your search terms to expand the results to more topics
"social media" Twitter OR Tumblr
|Search within a range of numbers||
Use two periods .. between the numbers to return results within that range
"social media" 2012..2017
|Search within a website||
Use site: to search within a particular web address or to limit your results to a domain type
For more internet research tips take a look at these short videos:
Evaluating information using the CRAP test
Now that you have found some resources, how can you tell if they are suitable for your use?
You can use the CRAP test to evaluate a range of resource types - websites, books, journals, newspapers, magazines etc. Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate the resource against the criteria of Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose.
Is it current enough for your topic?
A general rule is to use resources published in the last 5 years.
Is the source reputable?
Does the creator provide references?
Do those references pass the CRAP test?
Who is the creator or author?
What are their qualifications?
Are they an expert in the field?
Is it fact or opinion?
Is it biased or balanced?
Is the creator trying to sell you something?