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How to solve a problem like researching for your first science assignment!

1. What will I learn in this section?

We will cover:

  • The importance of using high quality academic information for assignments.
  • The hierarchy of information sources.
  • What the peer review process is.
  • How to evaluate information.

2. Use high quality information

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

  • 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  • using superseded, outdated or incorrect information may lead you to answer your assignment question incorrectly.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 answer on the best possible, most accurate and up to date information.

At the beginning of your course, it can be difficult to know which sources are reliable and accurate. 

However, as you learn more about your subject this will get easier because you will become familiar with the key sources, researchers and science.

Until then (and even when you have extensive subject knowledge), you still need to evaluate information. Here are four questions you should ask 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?

In the next section we will cover in more detail how we can evaluate information!

3. How to evaluate information

It's not enough to find information! 

You need to make sure you use the most appropriate, relevant and reliable information! 

Evaluation enables you to sift out unreliable information and make sure out of the millions pieces of information you could have used... you used the best possible pieces! 

 

To help expand on the four questions outlined above... here is a list of criteria for in-depth evaluation: 

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?‚Äč
  • 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.

4. Use an evaluation checklist

Those lovely librarians in Hallam Library have created a checklist and video to help with evaluation.

The checklist has been created in Microsoft Word and can be downloaded.

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

  • Take a look at the checklist. You may want to print or save a copy and refer to it when working with a new source of information.
  • Watch the video.

5. Hierarchy of information sources

This section has discussed evaluation in detail.

It is now time to test your perception of different information sources. There is hierarchy of information sources! Sources have different strengths and weaknesses as well as purpose and intent!

We use different sources to answer different assignments but what do you think about hierarchies? Which sources are most reliable and robust for most assignments?

 

This is a picture of a light bulb.                      Activity 2: 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.

6. Peer review

Why is is useful to understand what the peer review process?

We are describing the peer review process in relation to academic publishing. 

  • Before a journal article is published... the articles are reviewed by peers (experts) within that field.
  • The peer reviewers read and comments on the article.
  • If there are errors with the article, ithe peer reviewers are there to spot them.
  • There may be issues with replication or results not matching the conclusion or issues with images. There may be other issues but these are examples to get your thinking about what reviewers are looking for!
  • The reviewers then 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 may need to update articles with corrections to articles or retractions.

Can Library Search help find peer reviewed journal articles?

That is a great question and yes it can!

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.

If you need any more convincing about why evaluation skills are essential, take a look at Retraction Watch!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                           Activity 3: Use the peer review filter in Library Search

Step 1

  • 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?

Step 2

  • 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.

Step 3

  • 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?

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 4: 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.

7. Take a break

Congratulations you have completed six sections! 

Time to take a break - maybe time to think about a film for later?