It may seem that research is the easy part: type in a few keywords in to a search engine and the internet returns more than enough information to create your document. But really that is the problem–there is too much information and much of it is unreliable.
Part of doing research is finding credible sources that you can use for your writing. How do you know it is credible. There are two important steps to determining the credibility of a source: 1) you must be able to evaluation the information you find and 2) you must be able to evaluate your own research process.
Ask yourself what source would be credible? If you want to study civil engineering Facebook is not a good source. But if you are studying social interactions of people, maybe Facebook is a good source of information. Given the large amount of information available to research you must manage the information you have with purpose and intent.
- Ask about the author’s credibility. If it is an website gives information on cold fusion, is the information written by a physics professor or from someone who is being sued for fraud?
- Check for objectivity. If a university publishes a study about a pharmaceutical drug touting how great it is but at the same time the company that produced the drug studied is giving a large grant to that university, then you could question the university’s objectivity.
Evaluating your own research process
In order to be both credible and ethical you need to have multiple sources, and often multiple types of sources. Always write down quotations exactly and note the bibliographic information of the source. Review Technical Writing chapter 4 “Information Literacy” for more information.
Types of research
- Look-up searching: find immediate information to answer a question such as when you use Google maps, or are looking at one source such as Wikipedia to answer a question.
- Exploratory searching: finding multiple sources, multiple types of sources, or researching multiple viewpoints.
- Primary source: original information such as eyewitness account, data from experiments, novels, diaries, etc.
- Secondary source: sources that provide synthesis or analysis of the information of primary sources.
- Field research: interviews, surveys, etc. Please note if you are conducting field research then certain guidelines apply:
- Typically, IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval is not required when data collection and analysis is solely for use in the classroom. There are some exceptions to this guideline: IRB approval is needed 1) if a student wishes to publish or present their findings to a wider audience, 2) if the survey/interview deals with sensitive information, or poses more than minimal risk to participants or 3) if the participants are members of a protected group (like minors).
- In the absence of the IRB, the instructor should take on the responsibility of ensuring the research is conducted ethically, and educating student about protecting human subjects.