How to evaluate research sources

A resource written for young children won’t be relevant for an assignment that asks you to rely on scholarly evidence.

You’ve done the hard yards and found resources for your assignment. But just because you’ve found them, doesn’t mean you should actually use them. They may be out of date, biased or just plain wrong.

You will need to use your critical thinking skills to evaluate whether a source is suitable to use. Here are five factors to consider before you include a source of information in your assignment.

1. Currency

Check when your source was published and if it has been updated recently. It is important to know how up-to-date information is when you evaluate it for your assignments. Out of date information may not be appropriate.

2. Relevance

Relevance refers to how well the source meets your information needs. You should only use information that addresses your topic. If it barely touches on your topic, then it’s probably not something that you should use.

Also, consider the intended audience. A resource written for young children won’t be relevant for an assignment that asks you to rely on scholarly evidence.

Compare the source to others you have found to check that it is the most appropriate.

3. Authority

Who wrote it? Many journal articles and scholarly sources will provide vital details about the author. Where are they employed? What credentials do they have? What organisations are they affiliated with? This is all important stuff!

Also, consider the publisher or sponsoring organisation. Which journal was the article published in? Which organisation published the book or website? Sometimes the authority comes not from a single author, but from a reputable organisation or publisher.

The web address can also help you determine the authoritativeness of information found online. It can tell you if a source is from government (.gov), educational institution (.edu) or from other less regulated groups (.com, .net and .org).

4. Accuracy

Is your source using evidence to support their argument? Quality sources will usually provide references to other sources. Original research will tell you how they did their research and present data using graphs, and tables of results.

Sources are more likely to be accurate if other sources have verified the information. Look for language that is unbiased and objective.

5. Purpose

Why was the source created? Generally, you should be using sources that are created to inform or teach. Resources designed to sell products, entertain or persuade are less likely to be appropriate for university assignments.

Sources should include evidence and not present opinions. Always check if sources are biased or presenting political, ideological, cultural, religious or personal views.

— Extract from Study Smart —


Why we can’t trust our brains

Your brain is logically illogical and can be easily fooled.

According to Lack and Rousseau, ‘we often act and think in an understandable but irrational manner— what we are calling “logically illogical”’ (2016, p.72).

In their book, Critical thinking, science, and pseudoscience: Why we can’t trust our brains, the authors ‘focus on how the human brain, rife with natural biases, does not process information in a rational fashion, and the social factors that prevent individuals from gaining an unbiased, critical perspective on information’.

So how do you make logical, rational decisions under these conditions? Well, according to the authors, the answer is critical thinking.

But critical thinking can be difficult to engage in. Lack and Rousseau explore ‘the psychological and social reasons why people are drawn to and find credence in extraordinary claims.

‘From alien abductions and psychic phenomena to strange creatures and unsupported alternative medical treatments, the text uses examples from a wide range of pseudoscience fields and brings evidence from diverse disciplines to critically examine these erroneous claims’.

Written by a psychologist and a philosopher, this book describes ‘what critical thinking is, why it is important, and how to learn and apply skills using scientific methods–that promote it’.

It will help you strengthen your ‘skills in reasoning and debate, become intelligent consumers of research, and make well-informed choices as citizens’.

Critical thinking, science, and pseudoscience: Why we can’t trust our brains is available online in the Proquest EBook Central database. Griffith University has unlimited access to this eBook.


What is critical thinking?

Did you know that critical thinking is not synonymous with being negative and critical? Critical thinking could involve criticising an argument, but it’s more than that. It’s thoughtfully reasoned consideration.

This YouTube video on critical thinking by the Center for Innovation in Legal Education provides a useful, everyday definition of critical thinking and shows the purpose and value of critical thinking.

Critical thinking can be defined as examining your own ideas, and those of others; assessing and synthesising these different ideas and arguments; and applying ideas in different contexts.

You will need to think critically when reading, note taking, doing assignments, preparing for exams, organising your time, and attending lectures and tutorials.

Critical thinking involves seven steps. Let’s say, for example, you had to make a decision about which university to attend. You would ultimately do the following:

1. Analyse and interpret the question
E.g. Ask: ‘Which university should I attend?’

2. Immerse yourself in the topic
E.g. Seek information about different universities.

3. Ask questions
E.g. Ask questions about University services, programs of study, and potential career paths.

4. Make links
E.g. Make a link between Griffith University and its impact on a future career in education.

5. Understand the different perspectives
E.g. Synthesise information from a range of sources, such as University open days; guidance counsellors; current students; and professionals in the field.

6. Understand the theoretical frameworks
E.g. Familiarise yourself with terminology and concepts relevant to universities, such as undergrad, postgrad, entry requirementsand pre-requisites.

7. Develop a position and arguments to support it
E.g. Make an informed decision about which university to attend. It was Griffith University, right?

– Extract from Study Smart –


How to improve your study skills

Photo of study station

Study skills are essential to academic success.

But there are oh so many facets: critical thinking, time management, reading effectively, effective note taking, assignment preparation, assignment writing, referencing, exam preparation…

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a guide to all this? With strategies and resources designed to help you succeed in your studies?

Oh, lucky – there is!

The library’s study skills page is full of self-help resources to help you achieve academic success.

To start off, you can take an interactive tutorial on preparing for university, and learn to maximise your study time through tips on critical thinking, time management, reading effectively, and effective note taking.

Now we’re getting to the gritty end of the trimester, you might find our tutorials on preparing for your assignment and writing your assignment super handy. Trust us, good preparation and planning will make writing your assignment so much easier (give it a shot!).

We’ve also got tips to help you become a referencing guru. Almost all assessment pieces have dedicated marks for referencing, so it’s worth taking the time to get good at referencing.

And with the exam block looming, we recommend you take a look at our information on exam preparation to help you ace exams.

There are even tips on improving your social media skills. I know, you’re a millennial, what can we teach you that you don’t already know, right? But check it out, you might learn a thing a two. Like how to use social media to help land a job.


How to think critically

Photo of an ape thinking

It’s only natural to associate the word critical with negative connotations. I mean, negative is in fact a synonym of critical. But critical thinking is a whole other story – and not negative at all, I promise!

In fact, it’s quite the contrary. Critical thinking is thoughtfully reasoned consideration.  Thinking critically about topics can help you become a more thoughtful, informed, and better person. Oh, and it’s also important for your university work, too.

You will need to think critically when reading, note taking, doing assignments, preparing for exams, organising your time, and attending lectures and tutorials.

To find out how to develop critical thinking skills, have a read of Critical Thinking Skills for Dummies by Martin Cohen (2015). In chapter one, he provides a list of the qualities that make a critical thinker:

  • Tolerance: Critical Thinkers delight in hearing divergent views, and enjoy a real debate.
  • Analytical skills: Critical Thinkers don’t accept just any kind of talking. They want properly constructed arguments that present reasons and draw sound conclusions.
  • Confidence: Critical Thinkers have to be a little bit confident to be able to examine views that others present — often people in authority.
  • Curiosity: Critical Thinkers need curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but curiosity is the essential ingredient for ideas and insights.
  • Truth-seeking: Critical Thinkers are on mission ‘objective truth’ — even if it turns out to undermine their own previously held convictions and long-cherished beliefs and is flat against their self-interest.

Feel like practicing? Try applying the above to some of the information you see shared on Facebook, and play ‘Spot the Fake News’!


What is critical thinking and how can I do it?

Did you know that critical thinking is not synonymous with being negative and critical? Critical thinking could involve criticizing an argument, but it’s more than that. It’s thoughtfully reasoned consideration.

But don’t take our word for it, watch this YouTube video on critical thinking by the Center for Innovation in Legal Education. It provides a useful, everyday definition of critical thinking and shows the purpose and value of critical thinking.

Want some more help? Check out these critical thinking resources:

Thinking critically (online guide)
Griffith University Library
Provides advice and links to resources.

5 tips to improve your critical thinking (video)
Ted-Ed
Samantha Agoos describes a 5-step process that may help you with any number of problems.

Critical thinking (video)
QualiaSoup
A look at some of the principles of critical thinking.

Critical thinking skills for dummies (eBook)
Cohen, Martin
John Wiley & Sons, 2015
Offering expert guidance on sound reasoning and textual analysis, this accessible and friendly book provides hands-on, lively, and fun exercises that you can put to work today to improve your arguments and pin down key issues.

Critical thinking: a concise guide (book)
Tracy Bowell and Gary Kemp
Routledge, 2015
This book provides you with the tools to become a successful critical thinker; one who can act and believe in accordance with good reasons, and who can articulate and make explicit those reasons.

A practical guide to critical thinking: deciding what to do and believe (eBook)
Hunter, David, A.
John Wiley & Sons, 2014
Pursuing an interdisciplinary approach to critical thinking, this book is a unique presentation of the formal strategies used when thinking through reasons and arguments in many areas of expertise.


Ingredients that make a critical thinker

critical_thinking

Have you ever had critical thoughts about the phrase critical thinking? Like, ‘who cares about critical thinking’, ‘what even is it?’, and firm favourite, ‘critical thinking; enough already!’. Wait, maybe they are more negative, than critical…

Anyway, your lecturers and future employers care about critical thinking skills; so you need to as well.

According to one employer: ‘Analysis and critical evaluation would have to be two of the most important skills we look for, because we believe that graduates already have learned the content knowledge. What they then need is the ability to apply that knowledge. If they can analyse and evaluate the knowledge they have, then they can apply it in the workplace.’ (Griffith Graduate Attributes Critical Evaluation Skills Toolkit, p.7)

So what is critical thinking? Simple really. Critical thinking is a way of deciding whether a thesis, statement or argument is true, partially true, or false. It is questioning, evaluating and finding relationships between the pieces of information you have seen, read or heard (Thinking Critically Library Guide, 2016).

To find out how to develop critical thinking skills, have a read of Critical Thinking Skills for Dummies by Martin Cohen (2015). In chapter one, he provides a list of the ingredients that make a critical thinker:

  • Tolerance: Critical Thinkers delight in hearing divergent views, and enjoy a real debate.
  • Analytical skills: Critical Thinkers don’t accept just any kind of talking. They want properly constructed arguments that present reasons and draw sound conclusions.
  • Confidence: Critical Thinkers have to be a little bit confident to be able to examine views that others present — often people in authority.
  • Curiosity: Critical Thinkers need curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but curiosity is the essential ingredient for ideas and insights.
  • Truth-seeking: Critical Thinkers are on mission ‘objective truth’ — even if it turns out to undermine their own previously held convictions and long-cherished beliefs and is flat against their self-interest.

Now, just mix well and serve!