This is the "Research" page of the "Writing and Citation" guide.
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North Country Community College

Resources to help in writing academic papers
Last Updated: May 8, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Research Print Page

Designing Your Research Strategy

Make sure you understand the assignment.  Make friends with your syllabus. What citation system does your instructor want you to use (APA, MLA)? Is it a 15-page term paper? An analytic or an argumentative essay? Or a three-page reaction paper? By understanding the assignment, you will have a better idea of how many sources are needed--and what types of sources you are expected to use. Many assignments will call for scholarly, peer-reviewed sources and may require you to use primary sources (such as an original research article). 

Devise a research question that will help you focus on the topic.  For example, if your topic is fracking, you could frame it as a question such as "What are the risks of the hydraulic fracturing method to obtain natural gas?" From this you can pull keywords and concepts to use as you search the library databases or our book catalog. 

Does your topic interest you?  Since this is your paper, make sure you devise a research question that  piques your curiosity and genuinely interests you. If you are excited by your research, you are more likely to engage the reader/audience of your finished project--and to score a good grade.

Try mixing it up.  If it's OK with your instructor, use a variety of sources.  In addition to any required peer-reviewed articles, you might conduct an interview with an expert in the topic area, using that as a source. You could also use a book, a film, a podcast.  You might add a primary source that provides evidence. Using diverse sources will enliven your writing.

Only the Best Ingredients!

A good cook knows that using the freshest, most authentic ingredients makes for a more satisfying dish. The same idea holds with research. It's important to use credible sources. When choosing and evaluating sources, look for: Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency,  and Coverage.

Authority...Who wrote it? 

What makes this person an expert? 

Accuracy...Is it factual? 

Is evidence given in the writing, either through original research or through references to other sources? Are the sources given findable and verifiable?

Objectivity...What's the agenda?

Is the motive behind this source to promote the latest knowledge--or to promote a self-serving or biased viewpoint? 

Currency...How recently was it written?

Is this the latest thinking on this topic? Is a date given?  

Coverage....Does it cover all aspects?

How well does the source answer your research question? 


    Starting to Research

    Feeling overwhelmed by your assignment?  Take heart in knowing that such a feeling is normal.  Good research takes time.  It often involves shifting focus, or even starting over from scratch!  Allow yourself enough time to find worthwhile sources for your paper or project.  The result of your effort will be evident when you read your final grade!

    Peer-reviewed or No?: Consider the Source



    Academic or scholarly journal – sometimes includes both peer-reviewed articles, book reviews, and creative work.

    Magazine, trade journal, periodical, newspaper, newsweekly, tabloid.

    Purpose: to further academic knowledge in given area.

    Purpose: Often, to summarize latest news; largely, to entertain.

    Physical appearance: muted font and design, focus is on the words and supporting statistical images and graphs. Few advertisements – support is from university and subscribers – not-for-profit.

    Physical appearance: eye-catching, with lots of varied fonts, glossy pages, colorful images.  Lots of advertisements.

    Published less frequently, quarterly or bi-monthly.

    Published daily, weekly, or monthly.

    Published as continuing volume or issue – will inticate on cover (eg.: vol. 74, issue 2). Begins not at “page 1”, but wherever previous issue left off.

    Begins at “page one” with each publication.

    Sources are carefully cited, both in the body of the text, and in the bibliography at the end.

    Sources may or may not be cited in-text. Sometimes a byline (author credit) is even missing.

    Articles have been reviewed and selected by a panel of experts prior to publication.

    Articles are either assigned or selected by one editor.

    Especially found in college databases or by subscription.  Fewer hard copy journals are now being kept on library shelves – most issues are purchased electronically and found in databases.

    Sometimes found in academic databases or on library shelves, but more likely to be found at a newsstand or purchased through subscription.


      Primary and Secondary Sources

      A primary source is a document, artifact, or image that can be used as direct evidence for a researcher's analysis and discussion.

      secondary source involves a discussion or analysis of a primary source.  

      For example, a film review of Guardians of the Galaxy is a secondary source, with the movie itself being the primary source in question.

      Know Your Web Sources!


      How can you tell if a website has “authority??"


      In terms of web sources, authority means that the creators of the website have clearly identified what makes them experts in their field.

      • In the About Us section, is there a bio with the author's training, education, experience and publications listed?

      •  Is there a way to contact the individual or organization?

      • Is credit given for sources external to the website?

      • Is there "transparency?"

      • Does the domain name end with .edu, or .gov?  Often you will find ,more "vetted" information at educational or governmental sites.

       Other things to look for when determining the worthiness of a website:


      • Does the information appear to be accurate and specific?

      • Does a random fact-check show up inconsistencies?

      • Are there consistent spelling and grammar errors, or is care taken in presentation?

      • Are sources given for items presented?


      • Is the tone of the website overly emotional, or is information presented with neutrality?

      • Does the mission statement or stated purpose of the site advocate for a narrow point of view, or are differing discourses taken into account?

      • Are sources used identified and findable? Are those resources credible?

      • Is the design of the site - fonts and images - have chaotic or sensational tone, or is it subdued?


      • Has the site recently been updated, as per the date, (usually found at the bottom of the page)?

      • Are there “dead” links, or do lead to recent sources?

      • Are the items made available current as per the date?


      • Are all aspects of the topic(s) evenly addressed?

      • Are there more images than words?

      • Is there proper context given for images, or are they included randomly?


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