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Evaluating Sources: Research: A Process

This page contains the information you need to choose the source that is best for you, your research, and your assignment

Page Objective

Research on any topic is an iterative process. This guide is intended to give you an overview of the different parts of the research process, as well as a more in depth look at how to evaluate sources. 

This guide is not exhaustive, however, and if you are looking for specific information on how to locate particular sources (such as newspaper articles) please consult the following Learning Guides: 

Choosing A Topic

The hardest part of starting research can be choosing and developing a research question or topic. Here's a few things to keep in mind:

  • When choosing a topic, make sure to choose something that is relevant to your assignment/course requirements and something that intrigues you. You will be spending a fair amount of your time working on this project, so make sure you choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in. 
  • Choose a topic where there is enough evidence (either primary or secondary sources) that you can use for your research. 
  • Choose a topic of the "right" size. Topics that are too narrow may not have a wealth of resources for you to use, while topics that are too broad may have too many sources and possible points of view for you to cover in your assignment. For example, if you are interested in 'global warming,' you are likely to find thousands of different resources about all of the different sub-topics within global warming (such as coral reef acidification or global warming's effect on weather patterns). I would suggest that if you find yourself with a broad topic, create a concept map (also known as a word map) and narrow your focus to a sub-topic (ex: global warming and polar ice melting). 


Wind-Up Clock Human speaking a mixture of letters and numbers

Once you have an idea, you will need to find words to describe your topic. These will become your search terms.

1. Write out your thesis sentence.
2. Select the important or essential words.
3. Find alternative ways of saying things. Databases do not always understand natural language. For example, instead of the word "kids," you may want to use "children."
4.Take advantage of online catalogs and databases to find related subject or thesaurus terms.  
5. Scan the "see also" or "suggested" subjects for related topics and words.

For example:

"How have cell phones impacted our lives?"

Example alternative words or phrases for the words "cell phones," "impact," and "lives."

Database Searching

To Google or not to Google?

Google is what most people use to search the web.  A random search on your topic can yield a million random web sites.  If you think carefully about who the stakeholders are in your topic, you can use Google to find the web presence of organizations such as companies, government agencies, think tanks, consumer groups--in short, people who have a reason to convince you of their point of view. 

Still have questions about when to use Google? The video created by Northeastern Illinois University's Ronald Williams Library may help answer your questions. 

Still confused or have questions? No worries! Don't hesitate to contact a Shoreline Community College librarian through email, the Ask WA Librarian Chat, or visiting Shoreline CC's Ray Howard Library!