Basic Library Skills Tutorial – UBC Okanagan

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Welcome to the UBC Okanagan Basic Library Skills Tutorial!

The Basic Library Skills Tutorial will introduce you to core knowledge needed to complete quality research using UBC Library resources. Each module should take no more than 20 minutes to complete and follows this basic structure:
  1. A list of core learning objectives for the module.
  2. Textual information explaining the concepts and ideas of the module.
  3. A short video visually illustrating the activity described in the text of the module.
  4. A self assessment of the knowledge you obtained from the module.

Module 1 - Preparing for Research

  • This module covers understanding the requirements of an assignment, developing a research question using a variety of techniques and making your research topic ready for searching using Library resources.
Module 2 - Overview of the Library Website

  • This module illustrates the key features of the UBC Library website.

Module 3 - Finding Books

  • This module illustrates how to read a book citation, locating a book by title and topic using Summon and the library catalogue and finding a book on the library shelf.

Module 4 - Finding Articles

  • This module discusses the features of a journal article citation, locating a journal article by title and topic using Summon, narrowing down your results and idenitfying subject specific databases using Research Guides.

Module 5 - Evaluating Information Sources

  • This module illustrates the importance of understanding the publishing life cycle of information, evaluating information sources to use in your research and identifying scholarly and popular sources.

source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Basic_Library_Skills_Tutorial/Introduction/UBCO

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Module 1 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. Understanding the requirements of your assignment.
  2. Developing a research topic using a variety of techniques.
  3. Making a topic searchable using library resources.

This module will take 20 minutes to complete.

Failure to close the box before opening the next section may require you to scroll up to locate the beginning of the section.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_1_Objectives

1.1 Understanding Your Assignment Requirements

The first thing you need to do when you are about to start working on an assignment is read the question very carefully. This might sound obvious, but many students lose marks unnecessarily because they don’t pay enough attention to what the assignment question is asking them to do. To get the maximum marks for the effort you put in, you need to answer the question that is asked. As well as reading the question you also need to analyse the question. Assignment questions usually have a lot of information in them and you can use this information to help you with your answer. The information in this guide will help you to interpret what your assignment questions are asking you to do.

Content Words

Assignment questions usually have quite a lot of information in them about both what you need to be writing about and how you should structure your assignment.The words which tell you the topic of what the assignment should be about are commonly called content words. The content words tell you what.

For example, the content words for the following topic include:

Traditionally in many societies mothers are expected to stay at home and take care of their children. However, the financial pressures of modern life have forced many mothers to find jobs outside the home and rely on childcare for their children. With reference to one particular type of childcare facility discuss whether this arrangement is damaging for children or not.

These words tell you that the content of your assignment should relate to the effect of working mothers placing their children in childcare. Sometimes you will not be given any content words and you will be required to develop your own research question. We will discuss this later in this module.

Instruction Words

The words which tell you how to go about answering the question are commonly called instruction words. Instruction words tell you how.

The instruction words give you information on what type of assignment you need to write. For example, are you being asked to discuss, argue, describe, explain, report or compare and contrast? Each of these instruction words tells you that you need to write a different type of response to the question. For example, in a description you are asked to focus on what something is like or what happened. On the other hand, if you are asked to explain, you will need to focus on how something happens or happened.

The following is a brief outline of instruction words you may find in your assignment. You need to understand the instruction words to satisfy the requirements of your assignment.

Instruction Words What They Mean
Analyse Examine in close detail. Identify important points and chief features.
Comment on Identify and write about the main issues. Base what you write on what you have read or heard in lectures. Avoid purely personal opinion.
Compare Show how two or more things are similar. Indicate the relevance or consequences of these similarities.
Contrast The opposite of compare. Point out what is different. Indicate whether or not the differences are significant. If appropriate, give reasons why one item or argument might be preferable.
Critically Evaluate Examine arguments for and against something, assessing the strength of the evidence on both sides. Use your research to guide your assessment of which opinions, theories, models or items are preferable.
Discuss Similar to critically evaluate. Give arguments and evidence for and against something and make some judgment.
Summarise Similar to outline. Draw out the main points only. Leave out details or examples.
To what extent Consider how far or how much something is true, or contributes to a final outcome. The answer is usually somewhere between ‘completely’ and ‘not at all’. Follow the order of different stages in an event or process.

For additional content words, look at the follow Common Instruction Words list from Southern Cross University.

Reading Your Assignment for Understanding

To learn to read your assignment question for both content and instruction, watch the following video.

(Textual content is derived from the Assignment Navigator by Southern Cross University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.)

(YouTube video created by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_1_Assignment_Requirements_1.1

 

1.2 Developing a Research Topic

Developing a research topic is often the most difficult part of completing an assignment. It requires a lot of thought and time. To learn some tips about developing a research topic, watch the following video:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0License. 88x31.png


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_1_Developing_a_Research_Topic_1.2

1.3 Making Your Topic Searchable

Once you have a research topic, you need to take the time to make the topic searchable in UBC Library resources. With Google you could simply type the entire question in the search box, but you would retrieve millions of results. To develop a more specific search, here are some tips which will help make the process of searching simpler, faster and bring up more relevant results lists.

Choosing Keywords

Knowing how to find what you need in library resources is a powerful research skill and the keywords you use are a huge part of the success or failure of your search. Keywords, or search words, are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas or concepts in your topic. For example, look a the following topic:

Does caffeine have an influence on academic achievement in teenagers?

The keywords for this topic are: caffeine, academic achievement and teenagers

Once you have your keywords, you are ready to begin your search.

Putting the Keywords Together

Some library resources will need you to develop searches differently. Look at the example below. In Summon you can search by putting all the keywords in one line, but the database Academic Search Complete requires you to use AND between the keywords. You will learn more about Summon and databases in later modules.

AND - links search terms together.

The Power of Synonyms

Include synonyms in your search whenever possible. Databases only bring back results which contain the exact words you typed in. If you don't include synonyms you could miss a great deal of relevant material.

For example, if you are researching a candy-related topic you may think of the following alternate words to use in your search:

Keyword Synonyms Developing a Search
Candy Confectionery

Connect the synonyms using OR. Some sources will look different but OR will always be used to connect synonyms together. Remember to put the synonyms in brackets.

Snacks
Snack Foods
Sweets
Junk-food


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_1_Making_Your_Topic_Searchable_1.3/UBCO

You've finished the end of the module!

 

Module 2 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. Key features of the UBC Library website.
  2. Features of your library account.

This tutorial will take no more than 5 minutes to complete.

Failure to close the box before opening the next section may require you to scroll up to locate the beginning of the section.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_2_Objectives

UBC Okanagan Library Homepage

The UBC Okanagan Library homepage offers a variety of services and resources to students for their coursework but navigating the website can be confusing. This tutorial will introduce you to key features of the library homepage.

You will find the UBC Okanagan Library website at: http://www.ubc.ca/okanagan/library

Key Features of the UBC Okanagan Library Homepage

There are number of features and services on the library website. While this can be daunting, learning about the website will make your searching experience easier. The features shown here highlight services and resources you will need to complete research for your courses.

UBC Okanagan Library Website.png

1 Search Collections

Search Collections is a portal where you can search through all the materials the Library owns or licences.

2 Use the Library

Use the Library shows links to information on borrowing, library equipment and services, booking study rooms and accessing online materials from home.

3 Get Research Help

Get Research Help links to guides covering the research process - including getting started, evaluating and citing sources and getting published.

4 Search Box

The large central search box allows you to search through the Library's collections. This search box is called Summon. Summon is the Library's most comprehensive search engine. Fast and powerful, it is a good starting point no matter what your topic. Use it to find information in any discipline and pretty much any format: journal articles, print and electronic books, dissertations, maps, CDs and DVDs and much more. You will learn more about this search tab in this tutorial.

5 Login

To access your library account and library resources away from campus, login to the library using the Login. To login you will need your Campus Wide Longin (CWL)or your UBC Card barcode and pin. Your library account provides you with information about materials you have borrowed and late fees. You will also be able to renew materials you have checked out.

To learn how to navigate the library homepage and more about the features mentioned above, watch this short video:


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_2_Overview_of_Website_Content/UBCO

You've finished the end of the module!

 

Module 3 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. Identifying the features of a book citation.
  2. Locating a book by topic using Summon and the library catalogue.
  3. Locating a book by title and author using the library catalogue.
  4. Reading a Call number and finding a book on the shelf.

This tutorial will take you no more than 20 minutes to complete.

Failure to close the box before opening the next section may require you to scroll up to locate the beginning of the section.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_3_Objectives

3.1 Recognizing Different Types of Citations

A bibliographic citation is a reference that points towards a specific source of information. Citations can refer to a wide variety of published or unpublished works, such as books, journal articles, dissertations, and films. A complete citation provides all the pieces of information that you need to track down a source that has been referenced in a paper or been assigned as part of your class readings.

It is important to be able to recognize what citations look like for various types of information sources (e.g. books or journal articles), because you need to use different strategies to locate different kinds of materials. You can identify common types of citations by the information elements that they contain. While some elements are common to most citations (such as the author/creator of the work and the date of publication), other elements provide clues about the kind of information source that is being cited.

Each type of citation can be formatted in different ways, depending on which citation style is being used. The examples below in this guide show both MLA and APA citation styles.

Books

Citation Elements Item Details Sample Citations
Author(s) Jordan, Tim

Taylor, Paul A.

MLA Style:

Jordan, Tim, and Paul A. Taylor. Hacktivism and Cyberwars: Rebels With a Cause? New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Title Hacktivism and Cyberwars: Rebels Without a Cause?
Place of Publication New York APA Style:

Jordan, T., & Taylor, P. A. (2004). Hacktivism and cyberwars: Rebels with a cause? New York, NY: Routledge.

Publisher Name Routledge
Year of Publication 2004
Medium of Publication Print

Distinguishing Features

  • Only one title appears in the citation
  • The citation includes the place of publication and the publisher's name

Book Chapters

This type of citation includes all of the elements of a regular book citation, along with a few additional pieces of information. Individual chapters are usually cited when they form part of an edited collection, which contains chapters or essays contributed by several different authors.

Citation Elements Item Details Sample Citations
Author(s) Eco, Umberto MLA Style:

Eco, Umberto. “Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage.” Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Ed. David Lodge. New York: Longman, 1988. 446-455. Print.

Chapter Title Casablanca: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage
Book Title Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader
Editor(s) Lodge, David
Place of Publication New York APA Style:

Eco, U. (1988). Casablanca: Cult movies and intertextual collage. In D. Lodge (Ed.), Modern criticism and theory: A reader (pp. 446-455). New York, NY: Longman.

Publisher Name Longman
Year of Publication 1988
Page Numbers 446-455
Medium of Publication Print

Distinguishing Features

  • The citation includes two titles: the title of the individual chapter and the title of the book in which it is published
  • The place of publication and publisher name indicate that the item is part of a book
  • Information about the editor(s) is given (Note that regular book citations can also contain this element, so you need to confirm other features of a book chapter citation)
  • The citation contains the page number range for the chapter


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_3_Reading_Book_Citation_3.1

3.2 Locating a Book Using Summon and the Catalogue

Locating a Book by Title or Author Using the Catalogue

Sometimes in your research you will come across a book that you would like to locate in the library. Although Summon is a powerful tool for finding resources, searching for books is sometimes easier using the library catalogue. The catalogue only searches items in the Library’s collection and - while you can find ebooks here – almost everything else that you’ll find is a tangible item that you can hold in your hands.

If you have the book citation it is easiest to use the library catalogue to locate it.

Let’s look at book citation example:

Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1998). Evaluating training programs: The four levels. San Francisco, Calif: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

To search for this book, we need to first identify the book title:

Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1998). Evaluating training programs: The four levels. San Francisco, Calif: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Now we are ready to find the book using the library catalogue.

To find the Library Catalogue, select the "Books, films,etc." link under the Resources section of the library homepage. Then select the "Guided Keyword Search" tab. This will bring you to the advanced search of the library catalogue.

To learn how to find a book title and author using the library catalogue, watch this video.

Locating a Book by Topic Using Summon and the Library Catalogue

Limit the content type of your Summon search to "Book/eBook."

To find books using Summon, perform the same search you would use for fining an article and use the limits on the left side of the search results page. Under "Content Type" limit your search to "Book/eBook." This will update your search results physical books and eBooks (electronic books) you can open on your computer screen.

Remember, Summon contains almost all the material in UBC Library. This will sometimes make it difficult to locate a specific item, especially a book.

For a more specific search for books on a topic, the library catalogue will be a better search tool choice.

To learn how to find a book by topic using the library catalogue, watch this video.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_3_Finding_Book_by_Topic_Summon_and_Catalogue_3.2/UBCO

3.3 Reading a Book Record

Once you've found a book on the library website, there is important information you need to write down to find it on the library shelf. The record of the book gives you information about where the book is located. For example, look at the following record information:

This is the holdings information for a book. You will find this information when you select a book title from your search.

This is the information you need to locate a print book in the UBC Library system. There are several libraries on campus with many floors. Writing down this information will help you to locate the physical book once you are in the library.

On the Shelf

Once you've found a book on the library website, there is important information you need to write down to find it on the library shelf. The record of the book gives you information about where the book is located. For example, look at the following record information:

This is the holdings information for a book. You will find this information when you select a book title from your search.

This is the information you need to locate a print book in the UBC Library system. There are several libraries on campus with many floors. Writing down this information will help you to locate the physical book once you are in the library.

All books will have a call number listed on the spine. This number is the same number you will find in the catalogue record.

1. Go to the Library branch which has your book

UBC Library has multiple branches. Every book record will display which Library branch(es) has the book you are looking for. In our example, the location is Koerner Library.

2. Find the area within the library which has your book

In our example above, the catalogue shows that the location is Koerner Library stacks, with a call number starting with PN. This means that you need to first go to the Koerner Library branch and then make sure you look in the "stacks" part of that branch, on the floor which has the PNs.

Note: most UBC Library branches have:

  • Stacks (books you can take out)
  • A reference area (with books you can't take out)
  • A course reserve area (with books and other materials that you can take out for 1 hour - 3 days)

Each library also has signs and floor plans that show the location of stacks/reference/course reserve areas, and explain which floors contain which call number ranges. You can always ask a staff member if you need help.

Read Line by Line

Read call numbers line by line. Each piece of information directs you to a group of shelves, to a row of shelves, and then to the shelf that has your book.

Reading Call Numbers by Line.png

3. Start with Letters

Call numbers begin with letters that are read alphabetically. A call number can begin with one, two, or three letters. Single letters come before double letters, for example:

300

4. Look for the number

The second part of a call number is a whole number. Whole numbers are arranged from smallest to largest, for example:

300

5. Look for the Letter and (Decimal) Number

The third part of a call number is a letter followed by a number. This number is a decimal number. Decimal points do not usually appear on books, but they have been added in the example below to emphasize that the number here should be read as a decimal:

300

Reading It Together

The books below are in correct order.

Call Number Together.png

If you need further help with locating an item on the library shelf, ask for help at the service desk.

For a print guide on reading call numbers, go to: File:Reading Call Numbers Handout.pdf

Watch the following video to learn how to find a book on the shelf:


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_3_Reading_a_Record_3.3

You've finished the end of the module!

 

Module 4 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. Identifying the features of a journal article citation.
  2. Locating a journal article by topic and title using Summon, the General Search at UBC Library.
  3. Limiting your results in Summon.
  4. Identifying subject specific databases using Research Guides.

This module will take no more than 20 minutes to complete.

Failure to close the box before opening the next section may require you to scroll up to locate the beginning of the section.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_4_Objectives

4.1 Reading a Journal Article Citation

Journal Articles

At first glance, journal article citations can look very similar to book chapter citations. In particular, journal article citations also contain two titles: the title of the article and the title of the journal. However, different publication information is given for a journal article.

For example, the table below shows a sample citation in MLA and APA style, and the kind of information it displays:

Citation Elements Item Details Sample Citations
Author(s) Haas, Heather A. MLA Style:

Haas, Heather A. “The Wisdom of Wizards—and Muggles and Squibs: Proverb Use in the World of Harry Potter.” Journal of American Folklore 124.492 (2011): 29-54. Print.

Article Title The Wisdom of Wizards—and Muggles and Squibs: Proverb Use in the World of Harry Potter
Journal Title Journal of American Folklore
Volume Number 124 APA Style:

Haas, H. A. (2011). The wisdom of wizards—and muggles and squibs: Proverb use in the world of Harry Potter. Journal of American Folklore, 124(492), 29-54.

Issue Number 492
Year of Publication 2011
Page Numbers 29-54
Medium of Publication Print

Distinguishing Features

  • The citation includes two titles: the title of the individual article and the title of the journal in which it is published
  • No place of publication or publisher's name is given
  • Instead, the citation specifies the exact volume and issue of the journal that is being referenced


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_4_Reading_Article_Citations_4.1

4.2 Locating a Journal Article by Topic Using Summon

General Search (Summon)

Searching Summon is fast and easy but has some limitations. Summon contains content from hundreds of databases which means that it includes articles from most subject areas, however, Summon doesn't include everything so you may be missing out on some articles relevant to your research. Furthermore, Summon lacks many advanced search features that individual databases provide. If you need to do a comprehensive and precise search you should search in specific databases and indexes.

Alt text

To find articles in Summon, go to search box on the library homepage and enter your search terms.

To learn about searching in Summon, watch the following video.

Tips for Finding Articles

  1. When results display, use the "Refine your search" menu on the left of the screen to "Limit to articles from scholarly publications, including peer-review."
  2. If you have too many results you can add a search term, for example: cooking and culture and mexico
  3. Not enough results? Try fewer or broader terms, for example: food and culture
  4. You can also put exact phrases in quotation marks so that Summon only retrieves articles where the terms occur together, for example: "Global warming"

To learn more about Summon, go to the UBC Library Summon guide.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_4_Journal_Articles_by_Topic_4.2/UBCO

4.3 Locating a Journal Article by Title Using Summon

Sometimes in your research you will come across an article that you would like to locate in the library. If you have the article citation it is simple to use Summon to find the article by title.

Let’s look at our previous journal article citation example:

Slayton, Rebecca. Speaking as Scientists: Computer Professionals in the Star Wars Debate. History & Technology, 2003, Vol. 99:4, p. 335

To search for this specific article in Summon, we need to first identify the article title and the last name of the author:

Slayton, Rebecca. Speaking as Scientists: Computer Professionals in the Star Wars Debate. History & Technology, 2003, Vol. 99:4, p. 335

Sometimes article titles are very similar and it is difficult to find the exact article you are looking for by a specific author. To deal with this problem, search for the author’s last name and the title of the article:

slayton “speaking as scientists”

Searching for the author and title in Summon will likely provide you with the article you are searching for at the top of the results list.

Things to Note

  1. We left out the remaining article title after the colon (i.e. Computer Professionals in the Star Wars Debate). Often you will not need to use the full title to find the article. Additionally punctuation marks, such as colons, periods, semicolons, and quotes, confuse Summon when you are searching. Leave punctuation out of your title search.
  2. We are not using capital letters. Capital letters are not important in your search. You can either choose to use capitals or not.
  3. We are using quotation marks around the title (i.e. “speaking as scientists”). Quotation marks will instruct Summon to search for the words in between the quotations as a phrase. This is important to remember. If you searched without the quotation marks, Summon would search for each word separately. This will give you far too many search results to look through to find your article.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_4_Locating_Article_with_Summon_4.3

 

4.4 Finding a Subject Specific Database

While Summon is an excellent source to find articles it sometimes can be daunting. Summon is similar to a Google search as it searches across almost all the material in UBC Library. This can provide you with far too much information. What if you are interested in a topic but only from a political science perspective? A Summon search will provide you with articles from all disciplines including political science. To narrow out journal articles that are created in a specific discipline, we need to use subject specific databases located in the Research Guides.

Under the “Articles” tab of a Research Guide you will find subject specific databases. For example, here are the core databases for Anthropology resources. You can select a title of a database and be brought to additional information . The "About" section of the Database & Index page provides a description of what the database contains. It’s important to read this information so you know you are searching for material in the right place.

For example, look at the following image:

Select the database title to get more information about the database.

To learn about locating subject databases on the library website, watch the following video:


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_4_Find_Subject_Databases_4.4/UBCO

You've finished the end of the module!

 

 

Module 5 Objectives

In this module you will learn the following:

  1. The importance of understanding the publishing life cycle of information sources.
  2. To evaluate information sources to use in your research.
  3. To identify scholarly and popular sources.

This module will take no more than 20 minutes to complete.

Failure to close the box before opening the next section may require you to scroll up to locate the beginning of the section.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_5_Objectives

5.1 The Publishing Life Cycle

For this module we will take a step back and discuss information sources themselves. This may not appear to be as important as finding information, but if you don't know the different kinds of information, and don't understand how it is created and published, you will not be able to select the best sources for your research. This can result in more poorly written assignments on your part.

The Assignment Life Cycle

The Assignment Life Cycle, depending on your course, usually is one term in length.

While this whole module is about information sources, this section will discuss information and how it is managed over time--but first, let's look at your assignment life cycle.

When you get an assignment you will usually be directed by your professor to find a specific number of resources (e.g. books, articles) for your topic. Sometimes you'll be given a topic and sometimes you will have to develop your own. As covered in Module 1, you will get ideas for your topic from reading course materials, books, articles and internet sources and you will select something that interests you. Often what interests us are current events. Current events provide us an interesting space for research but can cause some problems.

Once you have a topic you will begin your research, but then you might hit a brick wall. There may be no information about your topic, and you must then ask yourself why? Knowing why will help you not only select a better research topic before you begin your assignment but also manage your expectations when searching for material. We will also give you some tips on how to work around this issue without having to start again.

First, let's figure out the "why" of finding the information.

The Information Life Cycle

The Information Life Cycle, will take approximately one year to get from the event to the final output of books.

Just like your assignment, information works within a cycle that is determined by several factors. The Information Life Cycle can begin with a newsworthy event. Once this event occurs, the information about the event enters the cycle:

  • Day 1 - An event occurs and is reported on the web, radio and television.
  • Day 2-3 - Journalists write articles and publish in newspapers.
  • Day 3-14 - Journalists write lengthier articles and publish in popular magazines.
  • Months - Scholars perform intensive research and analysis on the event. An academic article is written and the process of editing or peer review begins. This can take a lot of time as several versions of the article will be reviewed and modified before publication.
  • Years - Scholars will perform intensive research and analysis of the event and how it is situated in larger theoretical and global perspectives. This will take a lot of time as it will require several versions of the book to be reviewed and modified before publication, marketing and additional publication processes before it is ready to be accessed.

As you can see, if you have selected a current event for your research paper, attempting to find a scholarly source within a few months of the event will be impossible. Does this mean you can't write on the topic? Of course not! It will just make the research process a little different.

To write a research paper on a current event, you can research an event that is similar. For example, if you are interested in the environmental impact of an oil spill that occurred a few days ago, look for oil spills that have occurred in the past and discuss the current event by generalizing. For assistance with this process, go to a research help desk at your library.

Note - If a research paper is not event driven, for example an article on mineralogy in British Columbia, the publication cycle may take less time BUT the process of peer review is always a lengthy one. You will learn about peer review later in this module.


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_5_Publishing_Life_Cycle

5.2 Evaluation of Information Sources

Why is it important to evaluate your sources?

Publishing and distributing information can be very easy - especially on the Internet. Many online tools like wikis, blogs and other social media are free and getting published is as easy as typing up some content and hitting a "create" button. This means that anyone with an internet connection will be able to find a forum to publish his or her ideas. Many people do so without being experts on the topic - or using editors, fact-checkers or other forms of quality control. This is further complicated by the fact that many of these publishing channels come with slick graphics and professional quality site-design. This means that you will have to look beneath the surface to judge the quality of your sources.

  • Your assignments will often require that you use scholarly sources, written by experts for an academic audience. After all, you can't make reasoned arguments if your sources aren't credible.
  • The best way to ensure that you have a suitable source is to check it out yourself.

What to evaluate?

You will need to evaluate each resource you use for research, whether it is an online or print journal article, a website, a book, a newspaper article, or other source that you want to cite. Use the questions in this tutorial as a framework to assess how appropriate they will be for your research. Keep in mind that many publications have a particular bias or agenda, which may not be obvious at first glance.

  • Don't expect to be able to answer every question, all the time, for all information resources you look at.
  • Rather, try to use the questions as a tool to help you look at sources critically.

Authority

It seems obvious to state that no one is an expert at everything but it's easy to overlook an author's credentials - especially when reading something online. Some authors:

  • are experts sharing the results of their research with other scholars.
  • are hired to produce articles for the general public.
  • are passionate amateurs.
  • are experts writing for a general audience, e.g., a scientist writing a children's book or an economist writing a summary for a politician.
  • publish fabricated or unproven research for a variety of reasons.

Questions to Ask Squarefaq.png
  • Is there an author of the work? If so, is the author clearly identified?
  • Are the author's credentials for writing on this topic stated? For instance, journal articles often list the university or organization the authors are affiliated with.
  • If the author is affiliated with an organization, could this organization have a bias?
  • Have you seen the author's name cited in other sources or bibliographies? Repeated citations by others and a substantial body of work by the author can indicate expertise.
  • Does the source represent a group, organization, institution, corporation or government body? Is the organization a recognized authority on the topic? e.g., Metro Vancouver is an authority on regional land use, not search engine optimization.
  • For online sources, is there a way to contact the author and/or organization?

If you cannot find an author or an organization connected to a source, be very suspicious. If no one wants to stand behind the work, why should you believe what is written there? Even if there is a named author - make sure that the organization and/or author are who they say they are.

  • The website alexa.com lets you check ownership of a website and find out what other sites link to it.
  • You can search for an author in a database like Web of Science or Google Scholar to see if he or she has published other work on the subject and if that work has been cited by other authorities.
    • Reminder: even if an author is an expert in one field, she or he may not have expertise in the field you are researching.

Accuracy

It's easy to assume that because a work has been published that it's also been checked for accuracy but that is not always the case.

In the scholarly publication process there are a number of steps journal articles go through called peer-review:

  1. The journal editor typically assigns it to two or more independent referees, who have similar expertise to the author.
  2. The referees review the article and write reports that recommend acceptance, acceptance with minor or major changes, or rejection.
  3. Acceptance rates vary depending on the prestige of the journal, and the entire process can take up to a year.

When you search the web, you will usually find a combination of online scholarly journal articles (many provided to you by UBC Library) and other websites.

  • While individual websites may be written by experts and have some sort of editing process in place, there is no overall system for vetting the web.
  • This lack of review and revision process means that not all Web pages are reliable or valuable.
  • Documents can easily be copied and falsified, or copied with omissions and errors - intentional or accidental.

Note: as with other graphic elements on a website, commonly available software makes it easy to present data and statistics in a professional-looking graph, table or chart - whether the underlying data are reliable or not.

  • Data presented in a source may be original work by the author, collected by an official statistical agency, copied from somewhere else or even fabricated - so make sure to look at it as critically as any other element in the source.
  • For more information on good and bad graphs, see Gallery of Data Visualization.

Questions to Ask Squarefaq.png
  • Is the source part of an edited or peer-reviewed publication?
  • Can factual information be verified through references to other credible sources?
  • Based on what you already know about the subject, or have checked from other sources, does this information seem credible?
  • Is it clear who has the responsibility for the accuracy of the information presented? Is it on a site like Wikipedia which can be edited by anyone?
  • If data are presented in graphs or charts, is the source of the data clear? Does the data source itself seem credible?

Mini-Activity

  • Look at the NIPCC website and ask yourself if the information seems credible and accurate.

Scope

It's important to make sure that the scope of your source matches the scope of your research. To do this you'll need to look at the purpose, intended audience and coverage of your source material.

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Purpose

  • Why was the source created - to educate? sell a product? advocate a viewpoint?
  • Does the source update other works, support other works you've read, or add new information?
  • What is the balance between opinion and verifiable facts?

Intended Audience

  • Is the publication aimed at a general or a specialized audience?
  • Is the source too elementary, too technical, too advanced, or just right for your research needs?

Focus/Coverage of the Subject

  • Does the source cover the topic comprehensively, or does it only cover one aspect? Be wary if the author ignores other viewpoints or makes claims which aren't supported by data.
    • For books, a table of contents and index can be helpful in assessing the coverage of the work.
  • For online sources, is the site complete or still under construction? Does the source seem stable, or is it likely to change much between the time you read it and the time your research is finished?
  • For online sources, if there is a print equivalent to the website, is there clear indication of whether the entire work or only a portion is available online?
    • If it is a portion of the work have the quotes been taken out of context or otherwise misrepresented?

Mini Activity

Check out this article in Wikipedia. Ignoring the warning at the top of the article's page:

  • What elements in the article make it look scholarly?
  • What missing element might have revealed this hoax sooner?

For a brief recap of the points covered above watch this video:


source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Library:Module_5_Evaluation_of_Sources