One of the keys to successfully completing a research project is the ability to select quality sources of information to support the student's presentation. In each research project the student creates, the overall question he or she should ask is: what sources of information are appropriate to the context of the research. Students can discern the appropriateness of different sources by asking themselves some questions:
1. Authorship. Who is the author of this information source? What credentials does this author have? Is the author affiliated with any scholarly or professional institutions or agencies? If the source of information was authored by a group of people, what is known about the group?
2. Documentation. Is the research presented in the source (web site, book, article, etc.) properly supported by documentation? Are there footnotes, endnotes, or in-text parenthetical notes? Is there a bibliography or list of works cited?
3. Perspective. Does the author clearly identify any beliefs or assumptions that would affect the interpretation and analysis of the information he or she is presenting? What can you infer from the source about the author's worldview? Does the author present only one perspective on the issue or topic?
4. Evaluation. Has the source of information been published by a company or organization, or is the source self-published by the author? Has the source passed through a peer-review or similar formal evaluation process prior to publication? Has it been reviewed by an editor, or evaluated by experts in the field?
5. Intended Audience and Purpose. Who is the intended audience of this publication? What is the author's primary intended purpose? To inform? To persuade? To entertain?
6. Thesis and Supporting Evidence. Does the author clearly communicate the main thesis (or central claim) of his or her research? Does the author provide evidence and arguments to sufficiently support the thesis?
7. Sponsorship. If the information source is a web site, how might the web site's sponsoring organization or company influence the presentation of information? If it is a commercial (.com) site, how might the site's advertisers influence the presentation of information?
8. Currency. How current is the source of information? When was it published? If the source is a web site, when was it last updated? As you ask this question, think about how the context of your research should influence your selection of sources. If your main purpose is to survey the current state of research in a particular subject area, then you want to select the most current sources available. But if your main purpose is to survey the historical development of some topic or issue, then you likely want to select a mix of both older and current sources.
9. Primary and Secondary Sources. Have you selected a combination of primary and secondary sources that is appropriate to the context of your research? For example, if you are doing historical research, do you have access to primary source documents from the time period you are studying, as well as sources written by later authors who have studied and analyzed the primary sources? If you are researching a topic in the social sciences, do you have access to publications written by authors who are directly reporting the data and results of their own original research, as well as secondary sources that summarize, synthesize, and critique the original research of other authors? If you are doing biblical research, have you accessed the relevant biblical texts, archaeological evidence, and/or documentary sources from the time period, as well as sources by modern authors who present the results of their own research and their own analysis of the primary source material?
10. Sufficient Number of "Conversation Partners." Your research is like a dialogue or conversation between you and experts in the field within which you are conducting your research. A one-on-one conversation about a topic will be limited to the perspective of the two people involved in the dialogue. Likewise, a research paper will be limited if the writer has only consulted a couple of sources. So ask yourself, do I have a sufficient number of "dialogue partners" (i.e., sources of information) to carry on a productive conversation about my topic? Have I demonstrated that my research is grounded in a sufficient knowledge of what a community of scholars have already said regarding my topic? Have I fact-checked and verified my data by cross-checking the data in multiple sources?
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