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How To Research

Information for students and faculty about the Research Process.

CRAAP Test

The CRAAP Test is a series of questions to ask about any source of information.  The questions will help you decide whether your source is credible and appropriate for use in your research.

C

Currency: The timeliness of the information

  • Do you know when the information was published, posted, or last updated?
  • Is the information current for your topic and field of study?

R

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

  • Is the information appropriate for a college-level course?
  • Is this an adequately in-depth discussion of the topic?
  • Has Canadian perspective or content been provided?

A

Authority: The source of the information

  • Have the author's credentials or organizational affiliations been identified?
  • Is the author (or authors) qualified to write on the topic?
  • Has the piece been published by a well-known and respected publisher or organization?

A

Accuracy: The reliability and correctness of the informational content

  • Have the author's sources been clearly cited so that you can easily find (and verify) them?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?

P

Purpose: The reason the information exists

  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Does the point of view appear objective, unbiased and impartial?
  • Does the author acknowledge alternative versions of the issues or facts?

Adapted from: The University of the Fraser Valley (2009). Evaluating information: The CRAAP test. Retrieved from http://www.ufv.ca/library/tutorials/craaptest.htm

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly vs. Popular
  • Written by researchers, professionals, or experts in the field
  • Author's credentials are listed
Author
  • Written by journalists, reporters, freelance writers, and other paid staff
  • Rarely experts in the field
  • Advanced reading level
  • Researchers, students, academics, and professionals
Audience
  • Basic reading level
  • General public
  • Specialized or technical vocabulary
  • Topic is narrowly focused and research-based
  • Long articles: 5+ pages
Language & Length
  • Language is understood by almost anyone
  • General/popular interest topics and news items
  • Short articles: 1/2 - 5 pages
  • "Peer-reviewed" or "refereed" articles are screened and approved by other researchers and experts in the field
Review Process
  • Articles are reviewed and approved for publication by the magazine or journal's editor
  • Often a specific format: e.g., Abstract, Methodology, Discussion, Summary, Charts, Conclusion
  • Descriptive titles
  • Limited or no advertising
Appearance & Organization
  • No set format
  • Attention-grabbing titles
  • Lots of advertising
  • Scientific, medical, and research institutions, libraries
  • In print and online at RDC Library
Location of Information
  • Grocery stores, newsstands, bookstores
  • In print and online at RDC Library
  • Extensive bibliography and citations throughout
  • Sources can be verified
Citations & Bibliography
  • Rarely any citations
  • Difficult to verify source of information
  • Journal of Botany, Journal of Canadian Studies, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Educational & Child Psychology
Examples
  • Alberta Venture, Maclean's, The Walrus, Popular Science, People, Where Calgary

Adapted from: Lucy Scribner Library. (2010). Scholarly vs. popular periodicals. Retrieved from http://lib.skidmore.edu/library/index.php/help-topics/35-help/69-scholarly-vs-popular-periodicals-characteristics

Adapted from: Nevada University Libraries. (2010). Distinguishing scholarly and popular articles. Retrieved from http://library.nevada.edu/inst/docs/distinguishing.pdf

Understand Peer Review

Peer review is a process in which an article is screened and evaluated by a panel of experts before it is published. Reviewers will evaluate the article for quality, credibility, and accuracy. Peer reviewed journals are also sometimes called "refereed" or "scholarly" journals.

Usually a journal is peer-reviewed when:

  • It is published or sponsored by a professional scholarly society or association.
  • It has a list of reviewers or an editorial board of experts listed inside the front cover, back cover, or on the first few pages. This list can also usually be found somewhere on the journal's webpage.

If you have found your article online in an article database, you can check to see if the database has information about the journal to determine if it is peer-reviewed. Alternatively, you can do an Internet search for your journal's name to see if the publisher's site has any useful information.

Many databases have an option for limiting to peer-reviewed journals.  Check the limit options on the advanced search screen of each database to see if you can limit your search to articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Look for options such as:

  • Peer reviewed
  • Academic journals
  • Scholarly journals

Note that sometimes more than one of these options can appear; journals can be scholarly without being peer-reviewed.

Peer-reviewed journals do contain information that is itself not peer-reviewed, such as editorials, opinions, or letters. Remember to evaluate your specific article, not just the journal. 

Read & Critique Scholarly Articles

Reading and critiquing scholarly research articles is a skill developed with time and practice. As you read more within your discipline you'll likely discover patterns in the structure of the journal articles.  You'll also get more experienced at differentiating between good and bad articles.

Journal articles, particularly research articles in the sciences and social sciences, tend to follow a very similar structure.  You may see some or all of the following headings:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction or Background
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References

Don't feel that you have to read research articles from beginning to end. The best strategy may be to read the abstract and then skip to the conclusions section, in order to get a feel for the main points of the article.

While journal articles in the humanities don't usually follow the structure noted above, you will at a minimum still see an Introduction and a References or Works Cited list.

The following questions may be helpful in determining whether you are reading a good scholarly article:

  • Is the research question clearly stated (in a humanities paper, this will be the thesis statement)? Does it seem significant?
  • Has the new research been framed well within the existing research? In other words, is there evidence of a literature review and does it seem complete?
  • Is the researcher's methodology clearly laid out? Does it seem appropriate for the research problem?
  • Do the researcher's conclusions make sense, given the results reported or the evidence presented? Are there any inconsistencies? Any apparent biases in the data or evidence?
  • Have limitations to the research or argument been identified?
  • Does the References list appear accurate and complete?

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