Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

How do you solve a problem like researching for assignments?: Evaluate what you find

1. What will I learn in this section?

  1. The importance of using high quality academic information for assignments.
  2. What the peer review process is.
  3. How to evaluate information.

2. Why it is important to choose high quality information for your assignments!

It is important to choose high quality information for your assignments because:

  • many high quality sources will have an editorial process or quality control process before the information is published.
  • using sources that have an editorial process or quality control process means the information is more likely to be accurate and correct.
  • using superseded, outdated or incorrect information may lead you to answer your assignment question incorrectly.
  • you need to base your assignment answers on current and accurate information to make sure you are basing your assignment answer on the best possible, most accurate and up to date information.

So much is written about most topics that it can be difficult to know which sources will be the best to use in your work. 

As you learn more about your subject this will get easier, but there are some simple steps to help you choose what to read. Start by seeing if you can answer these questions;

  1. Is it relevant?
  2. Who wrote it?
  3. Why was it written?
  4. When was it written?

3. Lets begin to think about source selection for assignments!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                      Activity 1: Rank the information sources

This activity is to help you think about which sources may be more robust sources of evidence on which to base your assignment answers upon.

You can find reflections on this activity in Box 7. Choosing sources to inform and cite in your assignments at the end of this page for you to take a look at after you have ranked the sources.

4. The peer review process

It is useful to understand what the peer review process is and why it is important.

Here, we are describing the peer review process in relation to academic publishing. If a journal uses the peer review process, articles are reviewed by peers (experts) within that field as part of the process for deciding if an article will be published in that journal.

The peer reviewers may make recommendations for changes to be made to the article before it is accepted for publication. The peer review process is meant act as quality assurance for journal articles. However, with any process, there can be errors and sometimes even journals that use the peer review process will have to make corrections to articles or retractions.

Library Search includes a peer review filter to help you narrow your search results and help you ensure you are finding high quality information and journals that have a peer review process.

 

This is a picture of a light bulb.                           Activity 2: Use the peer review filter in Library Search

  • Step 2: Type - graphene tubes - into the search box. Click on the magnifying glass or press return to run the search.
  • How many search results did you get?
  • On the 20th Sept 2021, Library Search returned 238,721 results.

 

  • Step 3: You can apply the peer review journals filters by selecting this filter in the Availability section.
  • How many results did you get when you applied this filter?
  • On the 20th Sept 2021, Library Search returned 155,169 results.

 

  • Step 4: You can narrow the results even further by choosing Articles in Content Type section. 
  • How many results did you get when you applied this filter?
  • On the 20th Sept 2021, Library Search returned 153,622 results.

 

You can see from completing this activity that Library Search filters like - peer review and articles - can useful ways to help you exclude information from your search results!

Using filters can help you feel more confident in the quality of the information you are using but you still need to evaluate the content and the claims made for yourself! You need to be a critical consumer of knowledge!

 

This is a picture of a light bulb.                           Activity 3: Read one of these sources to find out how to ask for evidence or the peer review process

If you prefer to digest your information in a more visual way. There is a really good chapter in this academic comic that covers and explains the peer review process.

5. Take control of the editorial process

The following activity is designed to help you decide what criteria you would use when evaluating journal articles.

It is likely that you are undertaking this activity before you need to research an assignment. This is your opportunity to generate your own checklist that you can use when you have to evaluate scientific information for real!

 

Imagine you are the editor of the top journal within Biosciences or Chemistry.

This mythical journal is the top journal in the field. All the researchers want to publish in this journal. The readership is vast and if an article is published in this journal then it is likely it will be read and possibly cited by many researchers across the world! Getting an article published in this journal is very competitive and could be a highlight of a researchers career!

All that stands between the researchers article being published in this journal is you and the journal editorial team. The editorial team needs to ensure that the articles published in the journal are high quality and scientifically sound.

 

What happens if an article is published and is found to have errors post publication?

Articles that are published that are found to have errors can be corrected or retracted. The peer review process is designed to help make academic publishing as robust as it can be and lessen the need for corrections and retractions. Corrections and retractions can affect the individual researcher, the research team, the journal and other scientific work based on flawed information.

What are corrections and retractions?

Corrections

Corrections are an important part of ensuring the body of information is reliable and are often included by the publishers of articles where it is thought these are necessary. For example a correction could be adding a missing contact details for one of the academics on the paper.

Retractions

In some cases, the issues with an article may be of a magnitude that requires it to be retracted by the authors or by the journal editor. The types of issues which cause retractions range from honest errors to misconduct such a plagiarism or fabrication. When a retraction occurs the article is NOT removed from the journal in print or online. The publisher will usually alert you to the fact that an article has been retracted, however this appears in different ways in different journals and library databases. Look out for notes and watermarks identifying retracted articles.


 This is an image of a light bulb.   Activity 4: Take control of the editorial process.

Here are a range of articles from different subject areas and publications. You can read as much or as little of the articles as you want. The aim is not to read all the content but to see if you can identify why these articles were accepted for publication. 

For example:

  • is the data available for other researchers to check and consult?
  • is the information presented logically?
  • does the article include citations to other work?
  • do the results match the conclusions?
  • are there any ethical issues?
  • is the study design suitable for the question asked?
  • is the sample size appropriate?

 

Use paper or Word to note down the questions you ask and the things you consider when evaluating the articles. If you do this, it can help you start to build your own evaluation criteria!

 

How to find out more about a journal

You find out more about a journals peer review process and how articles are accepted for publication by looking in the relevant section on the journals homepage. You can see below the range of links you would be looking for on a journal homepage. We have used the journal - Injury Epidemiology - as an example.

 

You should now have increased your awareness of the editorial process and understand what evaluation criteria you are looking for when evaluating articles.

This is a transferable skill that you should use when you are evaluating information to base your assignment answers upon and cite as evidence in your work.

 

 This is an image of a light bulb.   Activity 5: Answer the question below. You can view the results of the poll to give you an idea of which criteria most guide users think is the most important criteria!

Choose the most important factor when evaluating articles?
Authority of the writers: 6 votes (26.09%)
Reproductivity of the results: 0 votes (0%)
No declared conflict of interests: 0 votes (0%)
Date of publication: 1 votes (4.35%)
Relevancy: 6 votes (26.09%)
Whether the information has the information been peer reviewed: 10 votes (43.48%)
Total Votes: 23

6. How do I evaluate the information I find?

It's not enough to find information! You need to make sure you find the most appropriate, relevant and reliable information! 

You need to evaluate the information and sources you use and make sure out of the millions pieces of information you could have used... you used the best possible pieces! 

Here is a list of commonly used criteria for evaluating information: 

The authority and credibility of the source.

  • What does the author know about the subject?
  • What is their background? 
  • What else have they written?

Bias.

  • Could the source or author have any bias (conditional or unconditional)?
  • Is the source trying to sell you something, or push a certain political or ideological stance?
  • Is it misrepresenting the evidence, or omitting evidence which you know exists elsewhere, or even not presenting any evidence at all for its claims?
  • Have you considered the international perspective?
  • Are there any geographical bias in searches or source selection?
  • Ideally, you want balanced, neutral sources which considered all the available evidence. 

The relevance of the source material.

  • Even if the source turned up in your search results, is it actually about what you want to know?
  • Is it only tangentially connected to your topic, or on another subject all together?

The age of the source.

  • How much has changed since the source was published?
  • Have any later developments contradicted or overturned what the source argues?​
  • Be mindful of using date to exclude a journal paper. Some papers are classic papers e.g. when a specific method was first published and a literature review may be incomplete if that specific paper was not included in a review.

7. Choosing sources to inform and cite in your assignments

In Box 3. Lets begin to think about source selection for assignments!, we asked you to consider what sources are your lecturers expecting to see in your reference list?

Here are our reflections on that question! Your lecturers expect to see appropriate sources related to the assignment. For example: 

  • textbooks
  • journal articles - primary and reviews. There may be a time when review articles are not expected to be used in an assignment and your assignment brief would outline this.
  • subject specific resources related to the assignment e.g. chemical or pharmacological data, protocols etc.

 

At university, you are encouraged to use high quality and academic information written at an appropriate readership level.  For example, if you had to look at treatments for a specific disease or condition, your teaching team would expect to see academic sources that cover this rather than non academic sources like consumer based health information or personal narrative blogs.

There will always be exceptions to any rule and it is difficult to predict all the different types of assignment you may undertake during your course. Evaluation is key for all sources and if you are unclear if something is appropriate to use or good enough for you to cite and base your assignment on... just ask! 

8. Take a break

Congratulations you have completed five sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe some fresh air or a chat with a friend or a cup of tea!