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First-Year, Transfer, and Honors Seminars: Research Strategies

This guide provides additional resources for the information literacy modules in UNI 101, UNI 201, and HON 110, for both students and instructors.

Finding Popular Sources

You might think you can find all the popular sources you need for your assignment through Google - and you're not totally wrong! In many cases, you might find access to great sources through a general search of the web. However, you have probably also run into a paywall at some point in your online life. If you've ever clicked on a link to a news or magazine article and instead found a pop-up prompting you to pay a subscription cost in order to read the article, you encountered a paywall! News organizations often rely on a combination of ad revenue and subscription charges to stay afloat, so there's a reason they exist. However, if you encounter a paywall while you are here at UNCW, you do not need to pay! One of your many benefits of being a UNCW student is access to news subscriptions through Randall Library. If you ever run into a paywall, check here first to see if we have access.

Some of our subscriptions allow you to make a free account and then use the news websites as normal (those instructions for the New York TimesThe Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chronicle of Higher Education are listed below). Others will just add the quick step of searching in one of our news databases for what you're looking for. As always, if you don't see what you're looking for, ask a librarian!

What Makes a Source Good?

The primary thing you need to consider as you evaluate sources (popular or scholarly!) is what makes a source good for a particular information need. All information has value, but not all information is valuable for every need. You don't need a peer-reviewed journal article to answer the question, "Do I need an umbrella today?" In the same way, today's forecast from a local TV meteorologist won't answer the question, "How has climate change affected the weather patterns in the Cape Fear region over the past 15 years?"

Your values and the guidelines of your assignment will tell you a lot about what information is valuable. Some things you might consider, though:

  • Is this current enough? If you're researching something historical, does this fit the time period you're researching? Are there more recent developments to include?
  • Who published this? Is this an expert in this area, whether that's based on credentials or a unique or personal perspective or experience on this topic? What else have they published?
  • Am I able to verify this information elsewhere? If you're unsure how to do so, brush up on how to fact-check your sources using the SIFT Method. Watch this short video (3:20) from Wayne State University Libraries to learn about the SIFT Method.
  • Who funded this? Is this published by a news organization that might receive funding from a source you should consider? If you're looking at peer-reviewed research, was this funded by an organization that might have influenced the study's design or results?
  • How can you use this source? Does it provide evidence for my argument, a new perspective, or valuable background information? Are there relevant discussions or data it shares, or is there a better source out there?

You shouldn't just be evaluating each individual source, but also your sources as a whole.

  • When you look at all of the sources you've found, are there any trends that emerge? How do these sources "communicate" with each other through their evidence and arguments? Are there viewpoints, sub-topics, or identities you feel are missing? Is a particular perspective or research focus over-represented in your works cited?

These are just a few things you might think about, but consider what's important to you and what your instructor requires!