Evaluating Print & Electronic Sources for Research Projects

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  • 0:03 Research Sources
  • 0:49 What Are Print Sources?
  • 1:56 What Are Web Sources?
  • 2:37 How to Evaluate Sources
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Print sources and web sources are both used in research. This lesson will discuss how print and electronic sources compare and what you can to do determine the validity of your sources.

Research Sources

It's finally happened. You've been asked to write a research paper. Chances are this is not something you've been looking forward to. You imagine an overwhelming process ahead. Then, you narrow down a topic. With an idea in your head, things seem a bit more manageable, at least until you start looking for sources. How do you know which sources are reliable and relevant to your topic?

The majority of your research is likely to be from one of two main types of sources: print sources and web sources. In this lesson, we're going to examine some characteristics of print and web sources. Then, we'll look at the criteria for evaluating their usefulness, all of which will help you be better able to determine a source's reliability and relevance to your project.

What Are Print Sources?

A print source is exactly as its name suggests - material that has been printed and can be produced in a hard copy. Examples of print sources are books, magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers. For the purpose of a research paper, automatically weed out any works of fiction. This means you will be looking at non-fiction, informational print sources. Non-fiction print sources can vary widely in the audience they target or the amount of information they provide. Imagine the difference between a local newspaper report on air quality compared to a research study on air quality published in a scholarly journal.

However, printed sources have one benefit. They generally have been through some type of critical review process that prevents poor material from reaching the library shelves. In other words, some type of quality control has typically taken place in order for publication to occur. Unfortunately, this doesn't give you the green light to use any book or magazine you find in a library. You must still evaluate how relevant a print resource is to your topic as well as its reliability.

What Are Web Sources?

Web sources include anything you can find on the Internet, which contains a wealth of high-quality information if you know where to look. Some web sources are databases of scholarly articles. These databases are a great place to find information. Other web sources can be self-published with unclear origins.

There is little quality control over the information you find, and anyone with access to the Internet can publish online. This makes it difficult to avoid bias or inaccuracies. It can also be hard to locate authors and references. Because of these concerns, you cannot assume that information on the web is accurate. Each web page must be critically examined.

How to Evaluate Sources

As mentioned earlier, you need to be able to evaluate sources before you use the information they contain. How do you review sources to determine if they're reliable and suited for your research project? Five criteria can be considered to help you make your decision: authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and coverage. These criteria are known by the acronym AAOCC.

Authority refers to who authored, or created, the content you are looking at and how qualified that person is to provide the information. Is the author a professor at MIT or a high school student interested in engineering? The more credentials the author has related to the content, the better the source.

Accuracy refers to the quality of the content provided by the source. Is the information specific or general? Does it provide supporting data? Can the information be verified elsewhere? Good sources provide specific, verifiable information with lots of supporting data.

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