Urban Studies and Planning Course Guide: Selecting a Topic

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

Evaluating Library Resources

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 criteria below to help you evaluate these resources. Note: Titles below marked with an asterisk * are in hardcopy in the Oviatt Library--click the link to get location information.

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:

Content & Coverage

  • 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?
  • How extensive is the bibliography or list of cited references? Can you use these references to find more information on your topic?

Timeliness

  • 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?  

Accuracy

  • Have other scholars evaluated the resource?
    • Books: Use the sources below to locate book reviews:
    • Articles: How have other scholars evaluated the article in follow-up letters or editorials? Letters or editorials in response to journal articles are usually indexed just like the original article. Search keywords from the article title and/or author name using a database on Database by Subject or Ask a Librarian to recommend an appropriate database.
  • Can you find the same information in another source?

Objectivity

Determine whether the information is fact, opinion, or propaganda.

  • Does it present a fair and balanced view of an issue?
  • Are there footnotes to show the source of the facts or quotes?
  • Does the author or publisher have a particular bias?
  • Are opinions or propaganda easy to recognize?
  • Do the words and phrases play to your emotions or bias the content?
  • Are there advertisements that suggest the information might be biased toward selling a product rather than providing objective information?

 

Evaluating Internet Resources

Internet resources should be evaluated to determine their credibility and relevance to your topic before selecting them for a research assignment. Use the criteria below to help you evaluate these resources.

Internet address (URL) domain extensions can be used to help determine authority and objectivity. A more complete list of two- and three- letter URL extensions is also available.

.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.

.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.

.net - Network, usually personal Web pages. The intent of the site is as varied as the individual(s) responsible for the content.

Who Created the Information?

What are the qualifications of the author or organization responsible for the content of the resource?

What are the author's education and/or experience?

Is it a reputable Web site? Is there an "about us" link on the Web page that provides information about the organization?

Is it a commercial, governmental, educational or personal Web site? Often the URL domain's extension (.com, .edu, etc.) gives you a clue about the site.

Look for the author's biography or information about the responsible organization within the Web page itself or use the sources below to find out more about people and organizations:

Information on People:

Information on Organizations:

Content & Coverage

  • Who is the audience for the Web site (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?
  • Does the page link to other reputable websites/organizations? Is there a bibliography or list of cited references and how extensive is it?

Timeliness

  • Is there a date anywhere on the Web page, such as date created, last update, etc.?
  • How up-to-date are citations, if any? Are the links broken?
  • How current does the information need to be for your topic or assignment?

Accuracy

  • Is it a commercial, governmental, educational, personal Web site or blog?
  • Is it a community site in which any individual can make changes to such as Wikipedia?
  • Can you find the same information in another source?

Objectivity

  • Determine whether the information is fact, opinion or propaganda.
  • Are there links or references to show the source of the facts or quotes?
  • Does the Web site have a particular bias?
  • Are opinions or propaganda easy to recognize?
  • Do the words and phrases play to your emotions or bias the content?
  • Are there advertisements that suggest the information might be biased toward selling a product rather than providing objective information?
  • Can you determine from the Web site's address (URL) a particular bias? Often the URL domain's extension (.com, .edu, etc.) gives you a clue about the site.

Types of Periodicals

Different types of publications have different purposes and different audiences. When we talk about journals/magazines, we can usually divide these publications into three broad categories: scholarly journals, popular magazines, and trade publications.

Check Ulrich's to see if a journal is peer-reviewed/referreed

Scholarly Journals Trade Publications Popular Magazines Newpapers
Current Psychology Research and Reviews Information Today Psychology Today New York Times
Geographical Perspectives Aviation Week and Space Technology Discover USA Today