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English 306: Overview

Choose the Right Resource

When choosing resources for your assignment, consider:

  • Assignment requirements—what does the professor want you to cite?
  • Learn about your topic -- You may want to use a reference book like an encyclopedia (print or online) to start out with if you don't have a clear understanding of your topic yet.
  • Time—the more current the topic, the less will be found in scholarly journals or books, which take longer to get published. Recent events will be covered on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, as well as in the media.
  • Depth of coverage and/or the topic—scholarly journals and books cover topics in more depth than magazines and newspapers. Some topics are not covered by the popular press, e.g., research that would not be of interest to the average consumer.
  • Quality of the resource - see Step 3: Evaluating Sources
Type of Information You Need Try These Resources
Does your topic cover current events? Newspapers, magazines, Internet
Do you need general information on a specific topic, written in a non-specialist style?
Newspapers, magazines, Internet
Do you need in-depth information on a specific topic, written for the college student and above by authorities in the field? Scholarly journals
Do you need more detail and/or has the topic been written about for awhile? Books
Do you need an overview, quick facts, statistics on a topic? Reference books, Internet

Developing a Search Strategy

  1. Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  2. Underline the key words and phrases that are most specific to your topic.
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  3. Write down each key word or phrase, and underneath it, list synonyms or related terms.
    Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find additional keywords. For example:

    SAT

    • scholastic aptitude test

    college

    • university

    success

    • achievement
  4. Think about the singular, plural, and other endings of words and write down the root of the word.
    • SAT
    • scholastic aptitude test
    • college, colleges -- college
    • university, universities -- universit
    • success, successful, succeed -- succe
    • achievement, achieve, achiever -- achieve
  5. Write down your key words and phrases along with their synonyms in the form of a Boolean search statement. Use the root word, and truncate it with an asterisk (*). Note: Different databases use different truncation or wildcard symbols. Check the database's help page. For example:

    (SAT or scholastic aptitude test) and (college* or universit*) and (sucee* or achieve*)

Finding Statistics on Specific Topics

Only a core group of organizations (most frequently government agencies, particularly federal agencies) collect, analyze, and publish extensive statistical data on a regular basis. Once you know the organization that collects the type of data in which you are interested, search their web site or catalogs of their print publications.

Tip: Think about who would have cared about statistics on the subject and how, as well as from whom, the data could have been collected; this often gives clues of where to look for statistics, whether from a government agency, a trade association, or some other source.

Go to statistical data sources.

Narrow or Broaden Your Search

Use AND between terms to narrow your search

example: television and violence and children

Use OR and/or truncate (*, ?) words to broaden your search

example: children or youth or adolescents
example: child* (will find child, children, etc.) Note: check online help for  the correct truncation symbol

Finding Articles in Magazines, Journals, and Newspapers

Pick a database recommended for your subject from Databases by Subject and then search using keywords.

To locate the full text of an article:

  • If full-text is available in the database, click on the link to full text (HTML or PDF).
  • If full-text isn't available in the database, click the Find Text button to see if we have access to the article in another database or in print in the library
  • If no Find Text button is available or you didn't find the article through our databases, search for the magazine or journal title using the Journals tab in the library catalog.
  • If the full text isn't available through the Library, you can request an Interlibrary Loan for the article(s) that you need. However, you must allow about two weeks for this!

 

Google Scholar

Using Google Scholar

You can find items the Oviatt Library owns using Google Scholar's Find Text capabilities. To activate the capabilities for your browser:

  1. Select Settings in the upper right, then Library links from the left menu.
  2. In the search box, type "CSUN" and select Find Library.
  3. Check the box next to "CSU, Northridge (SFX Find It)"
  4. Then select Save.

Select the SFX Find It at CSUN link (to the right of the article) or the SFX: Additional Options link (located below the article description) for access to online full text, Oviatt Library holdings information, and Interlibrary Loan.

Evaluating Sources with CRAAP

A young girl looking down at a dog with the caption "Is that CRAAP?"

Currency - When was it published?  For websites, when was the last revision? Does your topic require the most current information?

Relevancy - How well does it relate to your topic? Who is the intended audience? Does this satisfy your information need?

Authority - Who is the author? What are the author's credentials or affiliations? Are they qualified to write on this topic?

Accuracy - Where does the information come from? Is the information supported by evidence? Does the author cite their sources?

Purpose - Is the purpose to inform, sell, entertain or persuade the reader? Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda? Can you identify any bias?

Evaluating Internet Resources

Internet resources can be even more challenging to evaluate because dates and authors are not always readily available. Plus, we all know that anyone can create a website. Using the CRAAP test will help you thoroughly evaluate your source, but the following are some important things to consider when reviewing internet sources. 

Who Created the Information?

Websites do not always have authors so you'll need to find information on who or what organization is responsible for creating and updating the webpage. The following are links to look for on webpages that should provide more information on who is behind the website.

  • "About Us": usually provides information about the organization or company that is responsible for the webpage.
  • "Mission Statement": this will provide information on what the organizations values or goals are. 
  • "Contributors": provides information on who contributes content to the website, sometimes they'll even list the qualifications of their contributors. This section may also provide information on who funds either the website or the organization. *Beware of websites like Wikipedia where anyone can create an account and edit webpages.

Publication Dates

Finding the date a website was created or last updated can be difficult sometimes. If you can't find a date on a particular webpage, click around and look at the other resources on their website, can you find a date anywhere? Are there links to other sources that are out of date or dead links?

URL Domain Extensions

The following is a list of the most popular domain extensions, which can be used to help determine authority and objectivity. However, domain extensions alone cannot determine if a web source is quality or if it's right for your research.

.gov - Government. The intent of the site is to present official information collected by or about the workings of a government.

.edu - Educational institution. The intent of the site is to educate as well as present information collected by or about the educational institution. *Look out for student work or papers that haven't been published in an authoritative source.

.com - Commercial. The intent of the site is to sell goods or services, as well as provide information about the company.

.org - Organization, usually non-profit. The intent of the site is to present information collected by or about the organization. Sometimes, the intent of the site is to promote a particular point of view. *For more information about the organization check out Idealist.org

.net - Network, usually personal Web pages. The intent of the site is as varied as the individual(s) responsible for the content. *Usually not scholarly in nature, so if it is a personal page then make sure you research who that person is and what their qualifications are.

A more complete list of top-level domains is also available.

When to be skeptical?

  • There is no author or organization associated with the website.
  • There are a lot of advertisements and pop-ups. Just because a website looks professional does not mean that it's authoritative.
  • Websites that ask you to take some sort of action: donate money, sign a petition, give your email, etc. 
  • A website that only cites itself, providing links that only lead you to other resources within the site.

 

Evaluating Library Resources

Is that CRAAP?

Books and database articles should be evaluated to determine their credibility and relevance to your topic before selecting them for a research assignment. Use the CRAAP test below to help you evaluate whether a source is right for your research. 

Currency

  • What is the publication date of the book or database article?
  • How up-to-date are the citations in the bibliography?
  • How current does the information need to be for your topic or your assignment?  

Relevancy

  • Does the information relate directly to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the audience for the publication (scholarly or general)?
  • Is the information primary or secondary in nature?
  • Does it provide general background information or in-depth information on a specific topic? Which do you need?

Authority

Who created the information?

  • What are the qualifications of the author, publisher, or organization responsible for the content of the resource?
  • What are the author's education and/or experience?
  • Look for the author's biography or information about the publisher or responsible organization  either within the publication or use the sources below to find out more about authors, publishers, and organizations:

Information on Authors:

Information on Publishers:

  • Google - look for publisher's home page (check for focus, how long in business, circulation, etc)
  • Worldcat.org - see how many/which kind of libraries have the publication.

Information on Organizations:

Accuracy

  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Can you verify the information in another source?
  • How extensive is the bibliography or list of cited references? Can you use these references to find more information on your topic?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?
  • Have other scholars evaluated or cited the resource?
    • Books
      • Search the title of the book in OneSearch and refine your search on the lefthand side by choosing "book review" under the "format" on the left.
      • Book Review Digest Plus, 1983- present
    • Articles: Search the article title in Google Scholar to see how many times it has been cited and link to the articles that cited it. 

    Purpose

    • What is the purpose of the information? Is it meant to inform you, sell you something or persuade you?
    • Does it present a fair and balanced view of an issue?
    • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religous, or personal biases?
    • Are opinions or propaganda easy to recognize?
    • Are there advertisements that suggest the information might be biased toward selling a product rather than providing objective information?

     

    Online Tutorials on How to Avoid Plagiarism