Research Process

Good General Guides

The Web abounds with online guides to research and writing. Some of our favorites are:

Understand Your Assignment

Before selecting a topic or starting your research, make sure you understand your assignment and its requirements. Consider the following:

  • Have you been assigned a topic or can you pick your own?
  • How many pages/words do you need to write? How long is your presentation?
  • Do you need to include specific types of sources? (e.g. scholarly journal, book, etc.)
  • When is the assignment due? How much time do you have to research?
  • Is currency of information important?

When in doubt, consult with your teacher.

Types of Information Sources

With the proliferation of information available today it is important to think critically about which sources you consult as you make your way through the research process. It can be confusing to know if newspaper articles, books, journal articles, or the internet would satisfy your information needs. Some assignments may require you to use certain types of sources, such as primary or secondary sources, or specific types of periodicals, such as scholarly journals. Other assignments may require you to limit the number sources you use from the free web.

Evaluate your Sources

Now that you have found your sources, what's next? Make sure that you evaluate them before you use them.

Criteria: Authority/Credibility

Determining the author for a source is important in deciding whether information is credible. The author should show some evidence of being knowledgeable, reliable, and truthful.

Questions to Ask about Authority and Credibility

  • Who is the author (person, company, or organization)?
  • Does the source provide any information that leads you to believe the author is an expert on the topic?
  • Can you describe the author's background (experience, education, knowledge)?
  • Does the author provide citations? Do you think they are reputable?

Criteria: Accuracy

The source should contain accurate and up-to-date information that can be verified by other sources.

Questions to Ask about Accuracy

  • Can facts or statistics be verified through another source?
  • Based on your knowledge, does the information seem accurate? Does it match the information found in other sources?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors?

Criteria: Scope and Relevance

It is important that the source meets the information needs and requirements of your research assignment

Questions to Ask about Scope and Relevance

  • Does the source cover your topic comprehensively or does it cover only one aspect?
  • To what extent does the source answer your research question?
  • Is the source considered popular or scholarly?
  • Is the terminology and language used easy to understand?

Criteria: Currency and Date

Some written works are ageless (e.g., classic literature) while others (e.g., technological news) become outdated quickly. It is important to determine if currency is pertinent to your research.

Questions to Ask about Currency and Date

  • When was the source written and published?
  • Has the information been updated recently?
  • Is currency pertinent to your research?

Criteria: Objectivity, Bias, and Reliability

Every author has an opinion. Recognizing this is instrumental in determining if the information presented is objective or biased.

Questions to Ask about Objectivity, Bias, and Reliability

  • What is the purpose or motive for the source (educational, commercial, entertainment, promotional, etc.)?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the author pretending to be objective, but really trying to persuade, promote or sell something?

Criteria: Style and Functionality

Style and functionality may be of lesser concern. However, if the source is not well-organized, its value is diminished.

Questions to Ask about Style and Functionality

  • Is the source well-written and organized?
  • To what extent is it professional looking?
  • If it is a website, can you navigate around easily?
  • If it is a website, are links broken?


The legal and ethical issues surrounding the use of information goes beyond properly citing sources and avoiding plagiarism. Researchers should be knowledgable about issues related to privacy and security, censorship and freedom of speech, as well as have an understanding of intellectual property, copyright, and fair use.