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English: 76-101 - Interpretation & Argument: Start here

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Liaison - English & Modern Languages

Ethan Pullman
109B Hunt Reference,
Carnegie Mellon University Libraries
4909 Frew Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 268- 5018
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Quality research

What is quality research?

Quality research is research that has been vetted--reviewed--by other experts to determine that its methods and structure are sound.  Quality research answers the question "how do they know?" by showing where facts and information come from.

The wonderful and frustrating thing about the internet is that anyone can post anything--and many people do post all kinds of things.  With all of this information, it's tempting to think that it should be easy to find what you need.  Unfortunately, very little of the information online (or anywhere) is reviewed by anyone to make sure that it's accurate.  If you use this information, it becomes your responsibility to ensure its reliability for your reader.  That can take a lot of work and expertise.  Fortunately, there's an easier way: using materials that have already been vetted allows you to focus on your argument, instead of figuring out whether or not someone else got their facts straight.  As a university student, you have access to a large amount of quality material that is arranged to help you discover what you need!

How do I know if something is reliable?

There a number of things that indicate a source's reliability.

Some questions to ask about reliability include:

1.  WHO wrote/created/posted this?  Is there an author listed?  Are they an expert, a 'fan,' a journalist, someone opposed to the item/idea? 

2.  WHEN did the author write this?  Is the material recent?  Is it very old?  Is it a primary source (written at the time of an event--like a diary)?  If it isn't recent, is that a problem?  Why or why not?

3.  WHY did the author write this?  What is the author's intention?  Are they trying to sell something, convince someone, explain something, promote something, dissuade people from using/viewing/liking something?

4.  WHO reviewed this?  Did anyone review this resource?  Has it been checked for accuracy, bias, conflicts of interest?  If so, who is the reviewer?  Are they trustworthy (see question #1).  If not, why not?  HINT: See the videos below for more about how some resources are reviewed/vetted.

5.  HOW do you access this? Did you find this in a magazine, an advertisement, a blog, an email, a photograph, a film, a book, a journal, a newspaper, a tweet, a Facebook post?  What is the goal of where you found it?  For example, a magazine depends on advertising--its goal is to sell itself.  An academic journal, on the other hand, is a non-profit publication that is not trying to sell anything.  Things online aren't necessarily inappropriate BUT always consider that ANYONE (with a very little money) can put something online.  Only a very FEW people can get published in an academic journal.

6.  WHAT are you reading?  Are you reading original research?  A review?  An argument for/against something?  A letter to the editor (opinion piece)?  A study?  A report about a study?  Think about the type of information you are reading: a book review is not the same as a researched, fully-developed academic article.  An encyclopedia entry is not the same as a research study.

Other resources:

Misha explains the peer-review process (Xtranormal video via YouTube)

Peer Review in 5 Minutes (YouTube-hosted video)

Can Wikipedia, et al. be "quality research"?

Yes and no.  Wikipedia can be a great place to start research.  You may need to get some basic information or an overview of a topic.  Wikipedia can be fine for that, as long as you're on the look out for biased or questionable information.  For more authoritative starting points, check out our digital reference shelf!  It has encyclopedias compiled by vetted scholars; some encyclopedias are general and some are specific to a field or topic. 

If you use Wikipedia, think of it as a starting point, not an ending point.  You don't know who has reviewed, revised, edited, or even censored a Wikipedia entry.  Citing Wikipedia undermines your credibility.  You can, however, use Wikipedia to get a sense of a topic--you can also take a look at what the entry lists as a reference.  Some of those sources may be more credible and usable for a research project!

Why should you use quality research?

There are at least three reasons to use quality research:

1.  Using quality research builds your credibility as a researcher and contributer to a debate.

2.  Using quality research introduces others to it.

3.  Using quality research encourages good research practices.