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Mapping Your Research: 8. Read, Evaluate & Synthesize

This guide helps with understanding and planning the research process.

Evaluating Your Sources

Going hand in hand with reading, you want to be sure that your sources are not just relevant to your research topic, but also that they are appropriate sources of information.  Often times your professor will require you to use only scholarly sources such as academic journals and books, but sometimes you will be given the freedom to use any type of source including website sources.  

For the academic and scholarly sources you will only need to evaulate them on their relevancy to your topic which you will be able to do by reading the abstract of the article, looking closely at the title, table of contents, etc.  For web sources and other non-scholarly sources it can be a bit trickier.  You will need to evaluate these sources for Currency, Reliability, Authorship, and Purpose/Point of View, aka, the CRAP test.

Currency

  • How recent is the information?
  • How recently has the website been updated?
  • Is it current enough for your topic?

Reliability

  • What kind of information is included in the resource?
  • Is content of the resource primarily opinion? Is it balanced?
  • Does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?

Authority

  • Who is the creator or author?
  • What are their credentials?
  • Who is the publisher or sponsor? Are they reputable?
  • What is the publisher's interest (if any) in the information provided?
  • Are there advertisements on the website?

Purpose/Point of View

  • Is this fact or opinion?
  • Is it biased?
  • Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?

Effective Reading

Once you have gathered your sources, you will then need to READ them to determine if and how they relate to your topic/argument.  There is no way to do this other than to read the material you have found.  Depending on how many and what types of sources you will need, it may be unreasonable to read every single word of each source that you have found.  To avoid stressing out over reading hundreds of pages of material for one research assignment, here are some tips that can make the reading process more efficient and effective:

  • Identify focal points: 

Use your topic question/main ideas to create a list of key terms, phrases, and ideas that you will want to find within each article or book you are using.

  • Use the table of contents, headings, and subheadings: 

These can provide starting points or sections to focus on in articles and/or books.  For example, you may be using the book Greenhouse Governance: addressing climate change in America and realize that 382 pages may be a bit much to try to read before your paper is due, so you can look in the table of contents and see if there is a chapter or chapters that fit well with your topic.  For the sake of this example, the chapter entitled "American Public Opinion and Climate Change" would be an excellent place to focus on finding information for your topic.   

  • Read actively: 

As you read, make sure to note key pieces of information that you can use for your paper.  Think of how the information you find will be useful to your paper, and write this down in your own words.  Writing information found through research in your own words will help you to avoid plagiarizing. 

  • Allow time to read: 

Research, including the reading process, can be very time consuming.  It will be beneficial to give yourself at least two weeks to complete a research assignment, give or take a few days depending on how large the assignment is. 

For more tips on effective reading, please check out this video provided by the University of Prince Edward Island.

Synthesize The Information You've Found

Synthesizing the information you find during your research is one of the most important parts of the research and writing process as it demonstrates how your research materials work together. 

For some excellent tips on synthesizing your research, take a look at the pdf linked below.