6.3 Using Your Research

Woman reading a book
Figure 6.3

Determining a topic and finding relevant sources are only the beginning steps in the research process. Once you locate sources, you have to read them and determine how useful and relevant they are for your particular research context. The sources we use can either add or detract from our overall credibility. Therefore, reviewing, processing, and documenting information is an integral part of the research process.

Skimming

Skimming is the process of reading key parts of a text in order to get an overview of an author’s argument and main ideas. There are many different methods for skimming, so you will have to determine which works best for you and your particular source.

Most well-written texts, such as essays, articles, and book chapters, are generally organized in similar ways:

 

Introduction: provides the main idea/thesis as well as overview of the text’s structure

Body: provides claims, arguments, evidence, support and so on to support thesis

Conclusion: provides connections to larger contexts, suggests implications, ask questions, and revisit the main ideas

Ideally, the main ideas will be presented in the introduction, elaborated on in detail in the body, and reviewed in the conclusion.

Further, many sources will contain headings or subheadings to organize points and examples. Many sources will also use well-written paragraphs with clear topic sentences that provide the main idea(s) discussed in the paragraph. All of these aspects will help you skim while developing a sense of the writer’s argument and main ideas.

When you skim a source, consider the following process:

    1. Read the introduction (this could be a few paragraphs long).
    2. Scan the document for headings. In a shorter article, there may not be any headings or there may be only a couple.
    3. Whenever you see a new heading, be sure to read at least the first few sentences under the heading and the final few sentences of the section.
    4. Read the conclusion.

Taking Notes

Taking notes is a central component of the research process. While you skim the articles, record important information, beginning with publication information. Publication information provides a sense of the rhetorical situation for the source, such as its intended audience and context. As you encounter texts in your research, consider their role in your project and note the publication information as you use it. Recording the publication information as you go will help avoid problems, including plagiarism, or mistakes when citing and building the reference list (see examples below).

Journal articles: Published journal articles have been through a vetting process and are generally considered reliable and academically sound.
You should note the following information for citation purposes:

        • Author(s)
        • Publication date
        • Article title
        • Journal title
        • Volume and issue number
        • DOI or permalink

Web-based articles: When relying on websites, be sure that you have done some of your own vetting: Who owns the site? When was it last updated? is the research being funded by an organization that would benefit from specific research results? Are there any apparent biases?
You should note the following information for citation purposes:

        • Author(s)
        • Publication date
        • Article title
        • Site name
        • URL

Books: Like peer-reviewed journals, books typically go through an editorial process; therefore, they are generally considered credible sources of information.
You should note the following information for citation purposes:

        • Author(s)
        • Publication date
        • Book title
        • Publisher
        • City and state of publication

*NOTE: When using a selection from a book, such as an essay from a book containing other essays, or a specific part or chapter in a book, you should note the same information as above but also include the following for citation purposes:

          • Editor(s) (comes after Author)
          • Section or chapter title – (comes after Publication date)

The goal of research notes is to help you remember information and quickly access important details, so be sure to note the following as you conduct your research:

      • Thesis statement/Main idea
      • Keywords the author uses
      • Major points or claims the author makes
      • Evidence, support and/or examples the author uses to support their points or claims

*TIP: Whenever you copy the language exactly, be sure to use quotation marks to indicate that the information is coming directly from a source/author other than yourself. It’s easy to lose track of what came from where when you have many different sources for your research.

Evaluating Your Sources

The following is a system of evaluating the reliability of Internet information developed by the Cornell University Library. This information is especially important if you are using Internet sources and need to defend their validity and reliability.

      • Point of View: Does this article or book seem objective, or does the author have a bias or make assumptions? What was the author’s method of obtaining data or conducting research? Does the website aim to sell you something or just provide information? What is the author’s purpose for researching and writing this article or book?
      • Authority: Who wrote the material? Is the author a recognized authority on the subject? What qualifications does this author have to write on this topic? Is it clear who the intended audience is? What is the reputation of the publisher or producer of the book or journal? Is it an alternative press, a private or political organization, a commercial press, or university press? What institution or Internet provider supports this information? (Look for a link to the homepage.) What is the author’s affiliation to this institution?
      • Reliability: What body created this information? Consider the domain letters at the end of a web address (URL) to judge the site’s quality or usefulness. What kind of support is included for the information? Are there facts, interviews, and statistics that can be verified? Is the evidence convincing to you? Is there any evidence provided to support the author’s conclusions, such as charts, maps, bibliographies, and documents? Compare the information provided to other factual sources.
      • Timeliness: Has the site been recently updated? Look for this information at the bottom of a web page. How does the copyright of a book or publication date of an article impact the information contained in it? Do you need historical or recent information? Does the resource provide the currency you need?
      • Scope: Consider the breadth and depth of an article, book, website, or other material. Does it cover what you expected? Who is the intended audience? Is the content aimed at a general or a scholarly audience? Based on your information need, is the material too basic, too technical, or too clinical?

Take a look at this Prezi slideshow, “Sources: the Good, the Bad, and the eh…” from Rebecca Richardson, who explains how to effectively evaluate internet sources.

Restating the Information in Your Own Words

After taking the time to skim, take notes, and evaluate your sources, you should attempt to briefly summarize author’s thesis and ideas into your own words. This ensures that you truly understand the source and the author’s points. There are three main ways to approach this process: Direct quoting, Summarizing and Paraphrasing.

Direct Quoting

A direct quotation, one of the most common forms of evidence,  is a direct restatement of another author’s words. The quote must match the original source word for word and letter for letter. The quote should begin and end with quotation marks, which tells the reader that the information is directly quoted. Direct quotes are especially useful when the original writing is unique or difficult to summarize; when used effectively, they can also work to strengthen your support and credibility.

EXAMPLE:

According to the EPA’s assessment: “Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures.”

Source: "Basic information about lead in drinking water." EPA.gov.
Summarizing

Summaries are condensed versions of the original source, in your own words. Summaries focus on the main ideas, but do not copy any of the original language. A 500 page book or a 2 hour movie could be summarized in a sentence. Summaries do not contain the same level of detail as the original source.

EXAMPLE:

Original text: Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.”

Summarized text: Water becomes contaminated by lead when lead pipes, solder, or certain types of fixtures degrade, and hot water can increase the amount of lead released.

Source: "Basic information about lead in drinking water." EPA.gov.
Paraphrasing

Similar to summarizing, paraphrasing is a restatement of source material in your own words. The main difference is that paraphrasing tends to be closer in length to the original source. Paraphrases have the same (or nearly the same) level of detail as the original. Remember, though, if you copy from the original source even two or three words in a row, you must provide quotation marks around those words.

EXAMPLE:

Original passage: “Lead can enter drinking water when service pipes that contain lead corrode, especially where the water has high acidity or low mineral content that corrodes pipes and fixtures. The most common problem is with brass or chrome-plated brass faucets and fixtures with lead solder, from which significant amounts of lead can enter into the water, especially hot water.”

Paraphrased passage: Water becomes contaminated by lead when lead pipes or lead solder degrades. Certain types of fixtures, such as those plated with chrome and brass, as well as hot water, acidic water, and water with lower amounts of minerals can make lead contamination significantly worse.

"Basic information about lead in drinking water." EPA.gov.

Regardless of whether you choose to directly quote, summarize, or paraphrase a source, you must document the source material. Failure to do so properly could be viewed as plagiarism and can lead to allegations of academic or workplace dishonesty. The following section will cover the basics of documenting sources.

Additional Resources



CHAPTER ATTRIBUTION INFORMATION
"Writing About Research." A Guide to Technical Communications. [License: CC BY-NC 4.0]
"Processes and Guidelines in Technical Writing." Open Technical Communication. [License: CC BY 4.0]

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Technical Writing at LBCC by Will Fleming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.