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Beginning Your Research

How to pick the best?

To pick the best sources, you have to read and evaluate the sources critically. 

Read & take notes

Reading is an essential part of learning at the university. However, students may find it difficult because they may feel overwhelmed by the amount of readings required or by the complex concepts and unfamilar terms found in academic books and articles. With appropriate methods and strategies, you will find academic reading more managable.


Reading for an assignnment

What to read?

If you are reading for an assignment, you will need to read widely. Depending on your research topic, you will need to read books that cover specialized subject matters, research articles, conference proceedings, reports, theses, or more. Use the CityU LibraryFind to identify your needed books, journal titles and articles. For content of specialist databases such as law information or financial data, use the article databases to find articles relevant to your research topic.

How to read?

Some academic concepts and terms may be difficult to understand. Yet understanding is not enough to read for an assignment. You also need to read critically. To grasp the main ideas of an academic work, taking notes is also a must. Below are some techniques to help you read more effectively.


Handling difficult concepts or unfamilar terms

Your familiarity with your reading topic can determine how you read for your assignment.

If you find the concepts or terms in an academic work too difficult to understand, see if there are any graphs or diagrams in the article that can help you get a clearer picture.

If not, you may need to find another reading which describes the concepts in a more straighforward way before coming back to the more difficult ones.

You may also need to use subject specific dictionaries or glossaries to help you interpret unfamillar terms.

To read for an assignment, it is not enough just to understand. You are also expected to think, analyze and read with a critical mind. Identify the arguments made by the author, and ask questions while you read. For example:

  • When was the article written?
  • Who wrote the article?
  • How important is the reading?
  • How relevant is the reading to your assignment?
  • Are the ideas logical?
  • Are the ideas still relevant?
  • Is the work biased? 
  • How valid are the conclusions?

You may also refer to the library resources on academic reading.


Reading for a purpose

You will read for different reasons:

  • gaining an overview of a topic
  • preparing for a discussion
  • reading for an examination
  • finding an answer to a question
  • gathering information for an assignment
  • more

What and how you read will depend on the purpose of your reading.

 

Taking notes while reading will help you "uncover the content" (Fairbarin & Fairbairn, 2001) by focusing your attention on:

  • the author's main ideas & arguments
  • your views on the author's ideas
  • the relevance of the reading to the questions in your assignment

Note-taking not only helps you make meaning of what you read, it is also a must to protect the academic integrity of your assignment. With careful note-taking, you can avoid plagiarism by ensuring proper acknowledgement when using someone else's ideas in your assignment [more about plagiarism].

Read the "Tips about taking notes" box on the left to learn more.

References:
Fairbairn, G., & Fairbarin, S. (2001). Reading at University: A guide for students. Buckingham [England]: Open University Press
Open University (n.d.). Thinking, reading and taking notes. Retrieved March 22, 2010, from http://www.open.ac.uk/skillsforstudy/thinking-reading-and-taking-notes.php.

Tips about taking notes

1. Record all details about the source of eaching reading to ensure proper acknowledgement in your assignment. These include title (title of journal, book and article), author's full name, publisher's name, year and place of publication and page numbers.

2. Distinguish carefully between your own ideas and those you have gathered from your reading to avoid copying others' ideas without acknowledgement.

3. Use quotaion marks for direct quotes (i.e. author's exact words) so that you will also do so when using these notes in your assignment to avoid plagiarism.

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Evaluate your sources

Before deciding whether or not to incorporate what you have found into your assignment, you need to evaluate the resources to make sure that they contain information which is valuable and pertinent. This is especially true when the resources you retrieved are not collected by an academic library, but conveniently accessible through Internet search. Web resources need more careful thought to ensure their quality. Thus it is always a good practice to begin your search using our CityU LibraryFind and databases for more authoritative and reliable resources.

Evaluation Criteria

Accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage are the five basic criteria for evaluating information from any sources.

  Questions to ask:
Accuracy
  • Is the information reliable?
  • Is the information error-free?
  • Is the information based on proven facts?
  • Can the information be verified against other reliable sources?
Authority
  • Who is the author?
  • Does he or she have the qualifications to speak/write on that topic?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable university or organization in this subject field?
Objectivity
  • What is the intended purpose of the information?
  • Is the information facts or opinions?
  • Is the information biased?
Currency
  • When was the information published?
  • Is the information current or out-dated?
  • Does currency matter in this topic?
Coverage
  • Does the information covered meet your information needs?
  • Does it provide basic or in depth coverage?

 


Evaluating Websites

Bearing in mind that the Web is a vast network of unfiltered information sources, (i.e., anyone can put anything on it, bypassing editorial or peer review). It is of utmost importance that we evaluate information on the Web before it is used and cited.

Here are some quick hints that can help you decide whether the information given in a particular web page is reliable or not:

  • Look for information about the author, e.g., links that say "Who we are", "About this site", etc.
     
  • See if the author/web master provides e-mail address or other contact information so that he or she can be contacted for enquiries or further information.
     
  • Look for hints on authority in the URL (Internet address):
     
    • Top-level domain tells you what type of institution the information comes from
      • .com -- a commercial site (may be trying to sell a product)
      • .edu -- an educational institution (usually reliable but may not if it is a personal web page of a member of the institution)
      • .gov -- a government department or agent
      • .net -- network access provider
      • .org -- a non-profit organization (may or may not be biased)
         
    • a "~" in the URL usually indicates it is a personal web page
      e.g., http://personal.univ.edu/~smith/abc.htm
      The quality of information can vary greatly among personal web pages.

Links

For more about evaluating information, visit the following sites:

Evaluating Sources for Credibility, from North Carolina State University Libraries.

Critically Analyzing Information Sources, from Research & Learning Serivces, Olin Library, Cornell University Library.

Evaluating Webpages, Techiques to Apply and Questions to Ask, from University of California, Berkeley.