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Research 101

Your starter kit for college-level research at Kennedy Library. Advance your research skills with the self-guided tutorials and videos below.

Evaluate the Credibility & Quality of Information Sources

It is up to you to decide if information is credible and reliable to use in your research and to share with others.

When it comes to evaluating the wide range of information out there, especially information that is found online, use the following three questions to guide your investigation. Stanford History Education Group calls this Civic Online Reasoning, essential skills (like what professional fact-checkers do) to judge the credibility of information about social and political issues.

Civic Online Reasoning: When you come across information online, ask yourself:

  • Who's behind this information?
  • What's the evidence?
  • What do other sources say?

Stanford History Education Group (2019)

Watch this video for more discussion about the concept of credibility.

Additional viewing options: Press "play" on the video and turn on closed captions with the "CC" button.

Video from Evaluating Sources for Credibility by NCSU Libraries. 

What is Peer Review?

The goal of Peer Review is to assess the quality of articles submitted for publication in a scholarly journal. Watch the following 3-minute video to learn more about the Peer Review process.

Additional viewing options: Press "play" on the video and turn on closed captions with the "CC" button.

Video from Peer Review in 3 Minutes by NCSU Libraries.

BE AWARE: Not everything published in a scholarly journal is a Peer Reviewed Article!  When limiting to "peer-reviewed" the databases are going by the type of journal, and not distinguishing the variety of content in the journal, which typically also contains editorials and book reviews, which are not peer-reviewed.​

The peer-review and publication process often takes well over one year, so it might be hard to find a peer-reviewed article for a currently emerging topic.

If you are still unsure if it is a peer-reviewed journal, Google the journal's homepage.

Strategies for Reading Scholarly Articles

Scholarly articles are written by scholars for an audience of other scholars. They thus assume prior knowledge of the subject, which you likely do not have. Scholarly articles are also written with a language and tone that is, shall we say, the opposite of reading for enjoyment. But it's going to be okay! There are time-saving strategies to read and comprehend scholarly material. For example, you don't initially read a scholarly article or book from beginning to end; instead, you read certain sections first to understand the main arguments and results. Watch the video below to learn more.

Additional viewing options: Press "play" on the video and turn on closed captions with the "CC" button.

Video from How to Read and Comprehend Scientific Research Articles by University of Minnesota Libraries.

Types of Scholarly Articles

In Kennedy Library's OneSearch and databases, you may encounter the following types of scholarly articles. It's helpful to know the characteristics of each and be able to differentiate between them. 

Peer-reviewed (or refereed):  Refers to articles that have undergone a rigorous review process, often including revisions to the original manuscript, by peers in their discipline, before publication in a scholarly journal. Types of peer-reviewed scholarly articles include:

Empirical study (or primary article): An empirical study is one that aims to gain new knowledge on a topic through direct or indirect observation and research. These include quantitative or qualitative data and analysis. In science, an empirical article will often include the following sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion.

Review article:  In the scientific literature, this is a type of article that provides a synthesis of existing research on a particular topic. These are useful when you want to get an idea of a body of research that you are not yet familiar with. It differs from a systematic review in that it does not aim to capture ALL of the research on a particular topic.

Systematic review:  This is a methodical and thorough literature review focused on a particular research question. Its aim is to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making. It may involve a meta-analysis (see below). 

Meta-analysis:  This is a type of research study that combines or contrasts data from different independent studies in a new analysis in order to strengthen the understanding of a particular topic. There are many methods, some complex, applied to performing this type of analysis.

Adapted from Cornell's Tutorial: Scholarly Literature Types Guide

How to Use Sources in Research and Writing

It's important to think about how you will use a source in your paper, project, or performance.  

Joseph Bizup developed a model called the BEAM model that helps us think about the usefulness of a source in the research and writing process. 

"Writers rely on background sources, interpret or analyze exhibits, engage arguments, and follow methods." (Bizup 2008)


BACKGROUND: Using a source to provide general information to explain the topic.

Example: The use of a CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints article on the California drought to explain the severity of California's drought and recent legislation passed to manage water resources.

EXHIBIT: Using a source as evidence or examples to analyze.

Examples: For a literature topic, the short story you are analyzing. For a history topic, newspapers from the period of study. For an art history topic, a painting or photograph you are analyzing. For a political science paper, data from polls or surveys. For a science topic, an experimental study. 

ARGUMENT: Using a source to engage its argument. Most will be scholarly sources written by researchers and scholars. These are the sources you engage in conversation.

Example:  An analysis of recent water usage data and ramifications for California's drought. It is an argument about the exhibit.

METHOD: Using a source's way of analyzing an issue to apply to your own issue, whether it's to borrow an approach, concept, idea, or method.

Examples: References to critical theories or theorists (e.g., post-colonialism or Edward Said), or research methodologies (e.g., Mixed Methods Research Design).

Credit: Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 February 2014.