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Evaluating Information Resources: Research Process

Is a resource valid? Is it reliable? Will this resource support my topic? Answer these questions with these guide options.

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Research Process

Research is a process to discover new knowledge.  Does the word research sound overwhelming to you?  The goal of this resource is help you with the research process.  If you are experiencing questions or challenges at any stage of your research or paper writing, please seek out a librarian in person, through chat, or by phone - Contact Us.  Nicolet College Librarians are eager to assist you!!!

Step #1:  The first step is to choose a topic of something that interests you and that you want to know more about.  If you are drawing a blank with selecting a topic, some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political controversy?
  • Did you read or see a news story recently that has piqued your interest or made you angry or anxious?
  • Do you have a personal issue, problem, or interest that you would like to know more about?
  • Is there an aspect of a class that you are interested in learning more about?
  • What kind of information do you need to meet the criteria of the assignment?  A concept map may help at this point. 

University of Michigan - Flint, Frances Willson Thompson Library: Brainstorming for a Topic

Gale Virtual Reference Library (GVRL) is an electronic resource to which the Nicolet College Library subscribes that may be a helpful source to also trigger some ideas of interest for a research topic.

Some questions to ask to ensure the topic is manageable, narrow enough or broad enough:

  • What do you know about it? What don't you know?
  • What aspects of the topic interests you: historical, sociological, psychological, etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • On what geographic region do you want to focus?
  • What type of resources do you need - periodical articles, books, essays, encyclopedia articles?
  • Do I need statistics?

University of California - Santa Cruz, University Library:  Narrow or broaden a topic

Make a list of keywords, a variety of terms, or closely related terms, to your topic or that are likely to retrieve information on the chosen topic.  Example:  Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, memory loss.  Keep this list at your fingertips throughout the research process, as you may find additional terms to add to it.

Step #2:  Once the topic is chosen, search out a specialized encyclopedia reference to read an overview of the topic.  You may discern from this reading that the topic is too broad or narrow.  Encyclopedic entries include references to related keywords to search for additional information on the topic. These entries will also include citations for resources used to compile the encyclopedic entry.  These citations are worthy of exploring for your paper. 

Nicolet College online resources include access to Gale Virtual Reference Library that includes many specialized encyclopedias.  Using the Topic Finder tab offers a visual of the topic with related terms.

If the topic seems too broad, consider narrowing by geographic area; culture; time frame; discipline, i.e. logging; or population group.  An example, from the University of Michigan-Flint Frances Willson Thompson Library that demonstrates narrowing from a broad term down to the question to be researched:

  • Ideas = Frank Lloyd Wright 
  • Research Question = How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?
  • Focused Research Question = What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?

Step #3:  The search begins.  Use the keywords identified in the previous steps to search your library's resources of physical materials (books, video, and audio resources) and electronic resources.  The vast amount of information readily available today requires careful attention to select resources that are most likely to offer timely, accurate information from credible creators. 

Database Tips:

  • What is a database?  A database is an electronic collection of information resources (books, journals, videos, audio recordings, etc.) in one spot.  Searching databases is a more efficient manner of collecting resources, so the researcher can devote more time to the review of information to apply to preparing the research paper.

    A subscription fee is paid for each database available through the Nicolet College.  Information contained in these databases will not be found by doing a general Google search.

  • Think short and concise.  Use keywords or phrases in simple searches; avoid full sentences.
  • Use boolean operators (and, or, not) in advanced searches to generate more precise or focused results.  Some examples of using boolean operators: 
    • Dogs or Newfoundlands will return sources that contain the words dogs and also sources that contain the word Newfoundlands.
    • Dogs and Newfoundlands will return sources that contain both words of dogs and Newfoundlands.
    • Dogs not Newfoundlands will return sources that contain the word dogs but not resources that contain the word Newfoundlands.
  • Apply these tips when searching Nicolet College's Richard J. Brown Library resources:
    • Search the catalog of physical resources (books, journals, videos, audio recordings, etc.) available in the library on the 2nd and 3rd floors of Lakeside Center.  In addition to the link here, you will find the link on the library web site in the left panel Quick Links section labeled Library Resources (Online Catalog).  If you find additional keywords, be sure to add to the list you started above.
    • Search a selection of about 80 electronic databases available online, with an internet connection, to any Nicolet College students and staff.  In addition to the link here, you will find the link on the library web site in the left panel Quick Links section labeled eResources (Research Databases).  Search all databases simultaneously or choose databases for a selective search.  If you find additional keywords, be sure to add to the list you started above.
    • If you know the specific electronic database that you wish to search, scroll through the A-Z Database List to locate it.  This list is also found on the library web site, in the left panel Quick Links section, labeled Research Databases Quick Links
    • Consider emailing or saving the information sources that you find.  This will help you cite the sources, when you have determined which of the sources you will retain for use in your paper.

Step #4Evaluate the information found.  It is crucial to know where the information is coming from, who wrote/created the information, the date of the information, why the information was written or compiled, and how the information was compiled or prepared.  One tool to use for evaluating information is labeled the CRAP method.  Please reference the tab to the right to guide you through your information according to the CRAP criteria. 

Periodicals, serials, journals, and magazines are terms used for publications commonly used in research.  Along with those terms are descriptors of peer-reviewed, scholarly, and popular.  These terms and descriptors are well defined by the University of Michigan-Flint, Frances Willson Thompson LibraryPeer reviewed means that the information has been reviewed by experts in a field before being accepted for publication in a journal.  More credence is typically given to peer-reviewed articles than those approved by editors of newspapers and popular magazines.

Step #5Compile the information gathered from various sources into your paper.  You may want to use a Topic Concept Map (see below), along with the BEAM concept to guide the process of building your paper.  (What could a writer do with this source? by (Kristin M. Woodward/Kate L. Ganski) / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License)

Step #6Cite your sources.  Nicolet College's chosen format for citing sources is American Psychological Assocation (APA) Style.  Ideally, you have been gathering citations all along the research process.  This step is to eliminate the sources that you did not use to compile your paper. 

  • Refer to the KnightCite citation builder at the Hekman Library of Calvin College.  Registration is free.
  • Refer to the Purdue Online Writing Lab for verifying the format of the sources cited in your paper.

Step #7Pat yourself on the back!  You've created a research paper :)

Contact Us

Text us: (715) 953-2160

Main Phone #: 715.365.4479; 

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Library Hours

Library Hours Summer 2018

  Open Close
8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Tuesday 8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Wednesday 8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Thursday 8:00 AM 6:00 PM
Friday 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
Library Closings/Reduced Services - Summer 2018
Wednesday, July 4th CLOSED, U.S. Independence Day
July 1-2 & 5 Library will close at 5:00 PM Monday, Tuesday and Thursday during the week of the Independence Day holiday
Sunday, September 2nd CLOSED, Sunday hours resume September 9th.
Monday, September 3rd CLOSED, Labor Day