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Doing your best research

Before you start

Background research is essential for understanding concepts, terms, events, places and people who shape your topic. This knowledge base needs to be built *BEFORE* you start your formal research. Use this information to broaden or narrow your topic, formulate research questions, and build keywords. 

Use encyclopedias and database articles to help fill in your background knowledge of your topic. 

To find encyclopedias and database options go to the Library page on your school's website (under Resources). 


Evaluating Websites

Always evaluate websites for information quality and reliability because anyone with a bit of knowledge about computers and the Internet can put information on the World Wide Web. 

Research for school is different from personal research because academic research requires current, correct, and well-documented information written by institutions/people who are authorities on their subjects.   

What is a credible website?
Evaluating Tutorial
Quick Guide 

Use these ABCs as a guide to critically evaluate information on the Web.

  1. Authority 
    Who or what organization is publishing the content? Do they have the knowledge and expertise to publish information about this topic? Look in the About Us or Contact section of a site.  
  2. Bias/Purpose 
    Is this a commercial site that is trying to sell a service or a product? Does there appear to be a bias in how information is presented? Are there multiple points-of-view analyzed and expressed?  
  3. Content 
    Is the information correct? Read background information about your topic from a reputable source such as a database first and look for multiple sources. 
  4. Currency 
    Is there a publication or update date attached to the article or site? Look at the end of an entry or the bottom of a page.


What is the information cycle?

What is the difference between a blog and a book?  
Why does your history teacher prefer the academic Journal of American History to the popular magazine People?  

Understanding how information sources differ in terms of authority, timeliness, accessibility, and changeability will help you to determine the correct information sources for your research project.  View the video to the right to find out more about the role blogs, books, journals, websites, and databases play in the Information Cycle of a news event.  

Types / Formats of Information
Anthology : a collection of short works by different contributors or a single author or artist.
work of art
Work of art : An object (painting, photograph, object) you can see in a museum or public space or online.
Blog : an online source read through a Web browser, composed of dated posts.
Book : printed work of fiction or nonfiction, usually on sheets of paper bound within covers -- may be electronic
images & graphs
Images & Graphs : a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data. 
Interview : speaking to an expert provides an excellent source of primary information.
Journals & Magazines : online or print. May contain articles, interviews, reviews, analysis, etc. A.K.A. "periodicals" 
Newspapers : online or print. Contain local news, photos, investigative reports, advertisements, and editorials.
Pamphlets : May be posted online or obtained physically from local organizations. Succinct...often have referrals.
Reference : organized to provide quick access to facts, statistics, overview of subject matter, definitions, etc.
video & audio
Video & Audio : may be clips or full work. Must be evaluted and cited like any other source of information.
Websites : an online source viewed thru a Web browser as a stand-alone page or collection of pages.