Research Therapy: Controversial Topics

Welcome back to another session of Research Therapy. This session is all about researching controversial topics.

Are vaccines safe enough? Should there be more gun control? Does government surveillance conflict with privacy?

As a student, you might be assigned a writing prompt in which you are asked to write about a controversial issue, or a “hot” topic. Once you have chosen a topic, this type of assignment requires you to include outside knowledge in addition to your own interpretation and opinion. Knowledge about your chosen topic can be found almost everywhere, but remember the different types of sources: books, newspapers or magazines, and public information on the Internet. In this tutorial, we introduce three academic databases that can help you find reliable sources for a writing assignment on a controversial issue.

Why does this matter?

As a consumer of information, it serves you to be well aware from where you’re obtaining your news—that is, what sources are you accessing to feed you information. A “hot” topic is controversial because the issue must be socially complicated, must have more than one point of view, and probably stirs debates among people with opposing opinions. Due to the controversy, the media and sources that report on the current events of a social issue have difficulty reporting information that is completely objective—that is, without a subtle bias, political beliefs, or commercial interests. Since it’s almost unrealistic for journalism and the media to report information without some degree of media bias, you should think and reflect about how accurate and fair the sources are presenting you with news. If we measure the objectivity of the source by how accurate and fair that source presents information, then we can learn about the many sides of an issue and its opposing points of view.

How do we distinguish between objective and unreliable sources?

Just because a news source is opinionated or espouses a possible agenda—like a political leaning or corporate backing—that does not mean it is unreliable. But sources that show multiple views and allow rebuttals to their own stated opinions are more likely to provide a well-rounded examination of current events and social issues. As a researcher, you should try to find those type of sources—so that even if you’re writing about your interpretation of an issue, your viewpoint will present opinions that are well supported and aware of all the other points of view.

Links to databases featured in videos:

Opposing Viewpoints in Context
Gale Virtual Reference Library
CQ Researcher

 -Mario Macias

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