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English

This guide serves as a starting point for locating and evaluating information for English.

Keywords

PATH: Lighting Your Way From Research to Writing
(UNCG Libraries ) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 

Researching Critically

Effective research requires that you critically evaluate your sources and how you search for information.

Evaluate your sources

Read or examine multiple sources. Explore a topic from different perspectives by locating more than one source on your topic. You can gain greater insight by seeing how different authors treat the same work, or character, or scene. Seek variety in terms of:

  • author/researcher's demographics (e.g. gender, sexual identity, country of origin, race, age and/or time period in which they lived)
  • literary theory (see John Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory & Criticism for more context)
  • focus -- if you find a source that focuses on the role of men in a particular work, seek out sources that focus on women; if a source examines the symbolism in the use of color, seek out sources that explore other symbols in the same work or the use of color in other, similar works. 

Follow the references. Does your source cite references or otherwise indicate where they got their information? If not, why not? If yes, read some of those sources so that you can evaluate their information. 

Note: Sources may disagree with each other. This is okay, that disagreement helps us understand a topic. Be concerned when a source is discredited, particularly when the facts presented are disproved or the research process is questioned. 

Check your assumptions

Your search terms may bias your search results. Some terms assume an outcome; use of these terms may result in only locating articles that agree with that outcome. These terms include:

  • support
  • benefit
  • harm
  • improves
  • prevents 

If you must use a search term that indicates an outcome or relationship, try:

  • impact 
  • influence
  • affect 
  • effect

Change your search method to change your search results. Increase your search results by:

  • searching in several databases;
  • following the citation trail -- what works did the author cite; what works cite this article;
  • searching for different formats: books, journal articles, dissertations.

Identify the scholarly conversation(s). The sources you locate are part of a conversation among researchers and scholars. Identifying a conversation helps determine what has already been written about a topic and if there are known gaps in our knowledge. The conversation may entail:

  • best practices (particularly when studying education/pedagogical topics)
  • textual interpretations
  • primary sources or cultural contexts
  • theoretical approaches 

Look at how your topic is discussed by other researchers, what language they use to describe it, what experts they reference, what topics they consider related to your topic. Try new searches using these concepts. 

Literature Research Guides

These guides are book length publications describing resources such as scholarly journals, bibliographies, primary sources (aka manuscripts and archives) for literary research. These guides are particularly helpful if you are trying to determine what information, exactly, you can find in one resource, but not another.

Caveats:

  1. Guides are invariably out of date as soon as they are published.
  2. K-State Libraries will not own or subscribe to all resources described.

Ask a Librarian if you are unable to access a resource or otherwise have questions about using research materials. Interlibrary loan can help fill some gaps. We can also identify other libraries in the region where you may be able to access online resources or collections.