Answered By: Claire Sewell
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2016     Views: 161

Here are some guidelines and steps for you to follow in deciding whether the information accessed is useful in addressing your research question or problem.

Before you search, and probably the most important step:

For more efficient searching, spend some time analysing the question. Identify the key concepts, then think of possible synonyms. Carefully wording your search will find better matches, and thinking about how to restructure a search that does not give the results you hoped for will save you time when working through and assessing the results.

Once you have found items to assess, keep the following criteria in mind:

  • Relevance

Is the information relevant to your essay or research question? Look at the title, abstract and keywords to decide how close a match there is between the item and your assignment objectives

  • Disciplinary or multi-disciplinary

Is the article confined to a specific subject discipline, or is it multi-disciplinary (involving more than one field)? You should then match the document with the nature of your assignment, which may be confined to a subject discipline or require a multi-disciplinary approach.

  • Key author(s)

When judging the quality of a document, it may be instructive to look at the reputation of the author(s). Try to find out who are considered to be the leading authors on your particular topic(s). Academic authors usually have an affiliation to a university and have a title, such as ‘professor’. Check the number of times a work has been cited by other authors.

  • Date of publication

Does your question or problem require limiting your search to specific dates or periods of time?  In some subject areas, such as science and law, having recent sources is essential; but in other fields, like the humanities, the inclusion of older material may also be important.  Where there is a glut of material, it may pay to start with the most recent published work and then move back in time.

  • Scholarly sources

How scholarly does your assignment need to be? To determine whether a book is scholarly, it may pay to note the reputation of the publishing house; those that are international are usually highly reputable publishers. In regard to scholarly journals, you can look them up  in the Web of Knowledge and Scopus citation databases to find journal titles, their ranking and the number of times an author’s work has been cited. Both can be accessed via eresources@cambridge and selecting the 'databases' tab.

  • Type of article

What type of material are you after? There are different types of articles in a journal (peer-reviewed, review article, research article, book reviews, and so on). You may need to read the abstract or the introduction to the article to decide whether the article is appropriate for your research.

  • Type of methodology

Does your assignment require a particular methodological approach? For example, it may require large-scale survey methods (quantitative) where there is a need to generalise; alternatively, it may demand a detailed analysis of a small case study (qualitative). The abstract usually gives some clues. Also look at the 'Method' or 'Methodology' section, which describes how the research was conducted and how robust is the empirical data.