Category Archives: Articles & Web Sources

Finding, citing & evaluating general web resources: finding

In this reading, we’ll look at what I call the general web.  Basically, the general web can be described as what your instructors mean when they say:  “no internet.”  (Note:  some instructors include scholarly search engines in the “no internet” category – ask before using Google Scholar or PubMed.)

Once everyone has gotten their research question okayed, we will begin using  other, usually better,  web-based resources:  these include library databases such as Academic Search Premier, plus many subject specific databases.  You can think of library databases as specialized search engines.  Library catalogs are another kind of specialized search engine.  Our library catalog tells you what physical items the library owns:    books, CDs, DVDs, etc. ) We’ll also use OneSearch, the library’s new easy search system, which searches Stewart Library’s catalog, and most of its library databases  from a Google-like interface.  It also allows you to search materials from other libraries and universities.

But first, we’re going to look at the general web, focusing on  how to find good information, how to give credit for the information you use, ways you can use Wikipedia, what to avoid and how to  decide what to avoid.

Instructors say “no internet” because they know that the quality of information on the web varies wildly from excellent (rare) to horrible (common.)  The easy way to avoid these issues with quality is to use a  library databases or  Google Scholar.

Instructors also know that  it’s very easy to accidentally plagiarize when you use general web sources.   If the source you use  plagiarized, then you have plagiarized too.   Sometimes the problem goes back several layers.  For example: the original author plagiarized, either accidentally or on purpose.  The next people to use that post are guilty of plagiarism even if they give credit properly and so are you because you are continuing the act of plagiarism.  The fact that you did it accidentally may or may not help – it depends on your instructor.

However, the biggest issue with sources from the general web is figuring out what type of source you have.  If you don’t know the type of source, you won’t be able to determine if it’s an acceptable for your assignment.   Library catalogs, library databases, and (to some extent) scholarly search engines, identify the type of source and OneSearch lets you limit to a specific type of source.  Outside of news sites, it’s rare for a general web source to clearly identify its type.  You need to be able to distinguish a news article from a blog from a personal webpage from a term paper mill (Avoid the temptation to buy a research paper.  You might not get caught buying the paper, but you will get nailed for plagiarizing.)

Despite all of these issues, there are still  excellent sources available on the general web.   The problem is a.) finding them,  b.) figuring out what kind of source it is so you c.) can determine if it’s acceptable for your research and d. cite it properly.

There are several things you can do to increase your chances of finding good sources.

Make sure your instructor lets you use the general web to find sources before using them in an assignment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

  1. Do a good search
    1. Try typing in your research question first.
    2.  If you’re not finding much or you have to go to the third page (or more) of results without finding much, try different combinations of keywords and key phrases. Keep a list of keywords and key phrases that work: you can often use them for library databases, too.
    3. Play around with keywords and key phrases until you have a search that finds the information you need .  Because Google searches  so many websites,  the more specific you can be, the better.  This is true for Bing and other search engines.
    4. Limit your search to the types of websites that are more likely to have high quality information by using a domain search.  .Com, .tv, .edu are all domains.  Country codes are the domains for a specific country (us = United States, uk = United Kingdom, mx = mexico, ru = Russian Federation.)
      1. Education (.edu) – especially sites associated with libraries and colleges.  (The U.K. equivalent of .edu is .ac.uk, Australia:  edu.au; Canada and Mexico usually just use country codes:  .ca, .mx).  CAUTION:  be sure that you’re not using student work.
      2. Government (.gov, .mil, etc.)  – These sites can be an excellent source of statistics and other primary sources.
      3. Organization (.org) – these include professional associations, foundations, special interest groups, museums, etc.  Many of these groups provide high quality popular information on subjects such as controlling or living with specific medical conditions, information on requirements for a certain profession, etc.
    5. You can limit a search to a specific a domain several ways.
      1. Use the advanced search feature for the search engine you are using.
        1. For Google:
          1.   Type in Google.com.  Look at the bottom of the screen.  On the far right, click on “Settings”  Click on “Advanced Search.”
          2.   If you don’t see “Settings” in the bottom right corner, look for the grid symbol in the top right corner.  Click on it.  Click on  “Search,”  you should then  “Settings” in the bottom right corner.  Click on it, then click on “Advanced Search.”
          3.   Memorize/bookmark this link:  https://www.google.com/advanced_search  you can also just type:  google.com/advanced_search
        2. For Bing:  Bing no longer has an advanced search menu – you’ll need to use site:  (see following)
      2. Type in your search followed by:  site:edu (or site:org, site:gov, etc.).
        1. Example:  searching using one domain name:  Athena AND Apollo site:edu
        2. Example:  searching using two domain names:  Jupiter site:theoi.com  (or wildcats site:weber.edu)
  2. Use a web page, do not use an entire website.
    1. Use entire websites only when you are studying website design or a similar subject where you look at the site as a whole.
  3. Make sure the web page has enough information.
    1. In general, a web page should have a least 300 words of continuous text on the same subject.  Do a print preview.  If you have close to a page of information, you should be okay.
    2. No tables of content, no paragraphs linking to a full article (use the full article,) no lists of links with (or without) brief descriptions.
  4. Look at scholarly sites for scholarly information.
    1. It’s usually easiest to use library article databases or scholarly search engines to find scholarly information; however,  there are some good   scholarly web sources.
    2.  Sites such as those produced by libraries, museums and universities are frequently excellent.
      1.  For example:  http://dc.weber.edu/cdm/wars,   http://xroads.virginia.edu/~1930s/front.html,  https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html, and http://www.londonlives.org/
      2. Remember that education sites often include student papers.  These are not considered scholarly sources.  Look for online links to papers by professors.  Papers by graduate students may be acceptable – check with your instructor to be sure.
      3. If you find a good student site that includes a reference list, check it for scholarly sources that might be useful.
  5. Look at popular sites for popular information.
    1. The great majority of general web sites are popular
    2. Look for high quality popular sites
      1. Reputable news sources such as CNN, the New York Times, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News,  National Geographic is a good quality popular source.  The Smithsonian  has both scholarly  (click on Researchers at the top right) and good quality popular sources – the scholarly sources are usually more focused and contain data.  PBS and the BBC both have excellent information on many topics.  Check out:  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/ (we have the DVD),  http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/vindolanda_01.shtml
      2. Associations, foundations, special interest groups and other organizations
        1. These sites often show bias.
          1.  This is okay as long as you deal with that issue in your paper – in other words, you basically evaluate the site within your paper and explain why the information is valuable despite a clear bias.
          2.  OR find a web site supporting the opposite view and compare and contrast the information found in each.  For example:  http://www.bradycampaign.org/ and https://home.nra.org/
          3. Some associations focus on providing useful information and raising money for research:  http://www.cancer.org/
  6. Find primary sources
    1. The internet can be a great place to find good statistics, especially from government sources:  http://bjs.gov/,  http://www.healthypeople.gov/ .  Many foreign governments have pages in English:  http://www.insee.fr/en/,  http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/
    2.  Adapted sources such as photographs of art objects, old newsreels, digitized letters and journals, original works and translations of authors. etc.
      1. For example:  http://images.google.com/hosted/life,  http://www.americanrhetoric.com/,  http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess/,  https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/project/art-project,  http://www.lib.umich.edu/papyrology-collection/ancient-writing-materials-wax-tabletshttp://www.nationalgeographic.com/trajan-column/article.html
      2. Remember, you need to use information from reputable websites.
        1. NOTE:  while most primary source websites are free of advertising, there are some good ones, such as American Rhetoric, that use ads to pay for computer storage and the like.  A librarian or your instructor can help you decide if websites with advertising have good primary sources.  You can also google for reviews of the website.
    3. USE carefully:  Tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts,  user produced information such as iReport on CNN, personal YouTube videos, etc. Twitter can be used as a primary source that shows people’s reactions to a specific event, but not for much of anything else.  You can also get this type of information from the comments section of online news organizations.  Some blog posts, personal youtube videos, etc. can be good sources, but you will need to prove this to your instructor.

That leaves us with the big question – how do you tell what type of source you have?

  1. Determine the format of the source.  This is often the easiest way to determine the type of source you’re looking at.  For example:
    1. Most blogs have the word “blog” somewhere on the page.  If not, check for blogging platforms such as Blogspot,Typepad and, of course, WordPress.
      1. The class blog doesn’t say blog because I bought a domain name (rememberwhereweparked.com)  to make it easier to find.
      2. If you see a format like the class site – with entries and information in side columns – you very likely have a blog.
    2. The wiki format of Wikipedia is easy to spot – remember there are other wikis out there besides Wikipedia.  One to check out is Wikimedia Commons, which has images, sounds and videos freely available.  Most are public domain.
    3. If you see a number of short entries and a little blue bird, it’s probably a tweet.  Other social media, such as Facebook, are usually easy to identify as well.
    4. Other formats, such as PowerPoint, videos, and PDF or Word documents have an obvious format, but the purpose is always not as obvious.

USE COMMONSENSE!   This is a big one.  If you find a web page on your topic, but all you see is a summary in English, text in what appears to be cuneiform, and lines of dancing hamsters, this is not a good site to use for an academic assignment.  Dancing hamsters are pretty much always a sign that you should avoid that web page when doing academic research – unless the web page is an academic paper discussing the phenomenon of dancing hamsters. (Don’t remember the Hamsters?  Before there were cats, there were hamsters:   http://pages.cs.wisdancingc.edu/~boris/dance/   (note the .edu address.)  Dance with music:   http://www.superlaugh.com/hamsterdance.

Pippin

Equal time for cats.

Still not sure about the type of source?

  1. Avoid it.
  2. Desperately need the information on the page?
    1. Determine who produced the information (or source).   This has two purposes:
      1. It will help you determine what type of source you have.  For example:  if  the information is on the CNN page, you can assume that it is related to news in some way.
      2. It will help you evaluate the information.  If you can’t find out who produced a source, or other pertinent information, you probably need to avoid it and ask for help to find the information you desperately need.
  3. Determine what the aim or purpose of the source is.  
    1. Information?
    2. Entertainment?
    3. Persuasion? 
    4. Something else?
    5. This information will also help you evaluate the source, which in turn will help you decide if you can use it for academic research.

If you can’t figure out what the aim or purpose of a source is, you can’t find any information on who produced it, and you don’t know what type of source you have, avoid it.  Ask a librarian to help you find the same information in a reputable source.

 

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Finding, citing, & evaluating general web resources: citing

Citing web sources is just as difficult as determining what kind of source you have.  The problems are related.  You need to know the type of source to cite it correctly.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are no official format styles for many types of web sources.  How do you figure out how to cite them?

Start with checking the official style manual for the format you are using (MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian).  If you don’t find what you need, try the OWL@Purdue list of examples.  They will give you a reasonable suggestion and explain why they formatted citations as they did.  If you don’t find what you’re looking for, either use the OWL search box (for example:  APA YouTube) or scan the OWL’s FAQs to find their suggestions for formatting:  MLA, APA.  Check out the University of Chicago Press website for information on Chicago/Turabian.

Still don’t see what you need?  Try a Google (or Bing, etc.) search (for example:  APA 6th tumblr library OR MLA 7th tumblr site:edu).  Adding in the word “library” or searching only .edu sites will help you find the best guides.  Libraries and writing centers have the best guides.  Be sure the guide is for Chicago 16th/Turabian 8th,  MLA 7th edition and APA 6th edition.

Remember! Do not reference an entire website unless you’re using it as an example.

NOTE:   If your instructor wants a different version of Chicago/Turabian, APA or MLA, use that version.

Remember that in a real bibliography/reference list/ worked cited list, you would indent the second and any following lines.  Note that the title of website is in italics.

The publisher can also be referred to as the sponsor or sponsoring group or a corporate author (=an association, government agency, etc., cited as an author).  So, for the National Geographic citations, National Geographic  is both the title of the website and the publisher/sponsoring group/corporate author.

Chicago 16th/Turabian 8th

Author. “Title of webpage.” Title of the Website, if no title, publisher of website. Date of publication. Accessed date. URL.

Hawass, Zahi.  “King Tut’s Family Secrets.” National Geographic. National Geographic, Sept. 2010.  Accessed April 5, 2015.  http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/09/tut-dna/hawass-text

MLA 7th edition

Author. “Title of webpage.” Title of the Website. Publisher Name, Day Mon. Year. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

Hawass, Zahi. “King Tut’s Family Secrets.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.

 APA 6th edition

Author. (Year, Month day). Title of webpage. Title of the Website. Retrieved from URL of specific article

Hawass, Z. (2010, September). King Tut’s family secrets. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/09/tut-dna/hawass-text

NOTE:  Don’t have an author?  Start with the title (King Tut’s…).  For APA, put the title followed by a period THEN put the date information in parentheses.  Never start with the date.

Using Word to cite pages from general websites. (Click to enlarge image.)

Using Word to cite general web sources.

Using Word to cite general web sources.
Courtesy of Microsoft.

NOTE:  Using Word 2013 or 365?  You don’t need to click on the  “Show all Bibliography Fields” box.  All fields are available.

Citing other web sources

Wikipedia makes it easy for you.  Once you’ve chosen a good article that you are allowed to use, then use their cite tool.

Using the Wikipedia cite feature.

Using the Wikipedia cite feature.
Courtesy of Wikipedia.

How to use the Wikipedia cite feature.

How to use the Wikipedia cite feature.
Courtesy Wikipedia

Blogs, newsgroups, Tumblr, forums, etc.

Turabian 8th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Post.” Name of SiteDate of post. Accessed  date. URL.

Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012. http://yarnbombing.com/?s=knitorious+m.e.g.

NOTE:  some guides (and instructors) recommend using the format type  after the title UNLESS the format word appears in the title.  Some put it in parentheses, others do not.  I personally leave it out, but check with your instructor.

Example:  Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. (Blog).  June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012. http://yarnbombing.com/?s=knitorious+m.e.g.

OR

Example:  Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. blog.  June 2, 2010. Accessed March 12, 2012. http://yarnbombing.com/?s=knitorious+m.e.g.

MLA 7th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Post.” Name of Site. Message number if available. Name of Sponsor or publisher, Day Mon. Year posted. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

Prain, Leanne. “Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G.” Yarn Bombing: Improving the Urban Landscape One Stitch at a Time. Yarnbombing. 2 Jun. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

NOTE: I had really to search to find the author’s name and the posting date. If you use web sources, you’re expected to do the same.  If you don’t want the hassle of figuring out how to cite web sources, then stick with articles from library databases.

Message numbers  were more common in listservs,  forums,  and similar, older systems.

 APA 6th edition

Author or screen name. (Year, Month day). Title of post. [Web log post]. Retrieved from URL of specific post

Prain, L. (2010, June 2). Interview with the Knitorious M.E.G . [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://yarnbombing.com/?s=knitorious+m.e.g

NOTE:  The blog cited above is a good example of why a “date accessed” is helpful.  In 2012, the post was available.  It is no longer available from the blog.  You might be able to find it using The Wayback Machine.  (You can check out Knitorious M.E.G.  at her website:  http://knitoriousmeg.com/)

 

Citing YouTube and other web videos

Turabian 8th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Video.” YouTube. Date posted. Accessed date. URL of specific video.

  • If there’s no author/screen name posted, start with the title.
  • If there’s no date created, use copyright date if available OR use: n.d. for no date.

TheKheinz. “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.” YouTube. July 19, 2009.  Accessed March 12, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0.

MLA 7th edition

Author or screen name. “Title of Video.” Name of Channel or Episode if Available. Name of Website. Name of Sponsor or publisher, Day Mon. Year created. Web. Day Mon. Year retrieved.

  • If there’s no author/screen name posted, start with the title.
  • If there’s no date created, use copyright date if available OR use: n.d. for no date.
  • If there’s no obvious channel or episode, leave it out.

TheKheinz. “JK Wedding Entrance Dance.” YouTube. 19 Jul. 2009. Web. 12 Mar. 2012.

APA 6th edition

Author or screen name. (Year, Month day). Title of video. [Video file]. Retrieved from URL of specific video

  • If there’s no author or screen name, start with the title of video THEN the date 

TheKheinz. (2009, July 19). JK wedding entrance dance. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0

Remember – if the citation for a bibliography/reference/works cited list is more than one line, indent the second – and any following – line 5 spaces.

Using Word to cite web sources

General Word format for other web sources.

General Word format for other web sources.
Courtesy of Microsoft

 

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Filed under Articles & Web Sources, Web Sources

Finding, citing & evaluating general web resources: evaluating

Back in the Dark Ages when I was an undergraduate, sources were hard to find,  but easy to evaluate. Students these days have the opposite problem. Sources are very easy to find, but can be very hard to evaluate.   If you want to use a web source for an academic assignment, you are responsible for evaluating it – making sure it fits your assignment, that it’s good quality, that and that it wasn’t plagiarized (yes, if you use a source that was plagiarized, you have plagiarized.)

What do we mean by evaluate?   You can check out the Merriam Webster dictionary definition here.  Definition 2 from Merriam-Webster is the closest for our purposes: “to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study.”

It’s tempting to use the most convenient source.  Doing so is a good way to fail an assignment.    So, how do you evaluate web sources to ensure you are using a quality source?  I’ve given you a list of things (see below) to look for, but it can help to have an aide-mémoire (look at definition 1 this time.)  Yes, it’s silly and hokey (definition  1 AND 2) and a bunch of other related adjectives, but I bet you’ll remember it.

Please watch all of this State Farm commercial*   and the first 30 seconds or so of  S/S 2014 | Barcelona.

Who is the real French model – the State Farm guy (Eric Filipkowski) or Clément Chabernaud?   When you make your decision, you are evaluating.  For a simple question like this,  the process of evaluation happens very quickly.  In fact, what you’re doing is comparing the two gentlemen against your idea of what a French Model should look like.  Your criteria may include:

  • looks
  • clothes
  • context (one was on a runway, the other was in a commercial)
  • their web presence
  • etc.

Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy to decide if a web source is a “real French model” or “fake.”  With time and practice, you can reach the point where evaluating a web source is straightforward.  Until you reach that point, it’s helpful to keep a cheat sheet on hand to help you decide

Use the criteria  below to  help you decide if your source is a “real”  French model or a “fake” one.  These criteria are the same ones you use to buy a car or a computer or anything else expensive, they’ve just been tweaked a bit to apply to information sources.

There are four basic categories you’ll need to consider:

  • relevance,
  • credibility
  • currency
  • objectivity.

When you’re trying to decide if a web source is okay to use in a paper,  you’ll need to consider at least one of the items in each category.  For more complex sources such as peer reviewed articles, you’ll need to consider several items in each category.

Fake or hoax sites

You may run into sites that you think might be fake.  Not sure?  There are several things you can do to check.  The first is to use a website that specializes in debunking internet (and other) stories.  Two of the better known are Snopes and the Museum of Hoaxes.  (Note:  these sites use ads to help support themselves, but are still considered mostly accurate at this time.)  You can also check Wikipedia or just try googling or binging and see what comes up.

DON’T FORGET TO USE COMMONSENSE!

For an evaluation checklist with text & video examples go to:

 https://library.weber.edu/sites/default/files/files/LIBS1704%20Textbook/evaluation.pdf

Evaluating websites, be they general sites, specialty sites, blogs, wikis, or videos, is tricky  because many are missing the types of information normally used to evaluate a source.

Can’t find the date or any information about the author?   This may be a good reason to avoid using the web source.

Evaluating web sources

Relevancy

  • Is the web page clearly relevant to your topic?
    • For example: you are writing a paper on how steroid use has affected public perception of baseball.
    • You find a web page about the chemistry of steroids.  While this website may be useful for background information, this website is not directly relevant.  You need to find a better source.
  • Cite only a single page or section from a website.  Do not cite an entire website!
    • Exception: you are writing a paper on website design (or something similar) and using the entire website as an example, not an information source.

Can you use related web pages? Yes, but:  Using a general web page as a source is iffy enough as it is.  Don’t add to the problem by trying to use a source that is not clearly and directly relevant.  Use related web pages for background only.

Right kind of web page?  Popular/scholarly/trade?  Primary or secondary?

  • Most web pages are popular.
  • Websites with primary sources suitable for academic research are usually associated with universities, museums and other academically inclined institutions,  government archives, and the like.
  • Most trade websites are published by professional associations.

As with articles from library databases, you need to keep in mind: who is the audience?

  • Look for web sources that have authors and provide information about the author.

If you can’t figure out who wrote/posted the information (be it a personal author or a group of some kind), then you should find a different source.

EXCEPTION 1:  Some government and association sites do not  list authors.  They have what are called “corporate authors.”  This means you use the name of the association or the government department or agency as the author.

EXCEPTION 2:  If you’re using the source as an example as opposed to a source of information,  you can use a source that lacks important information.

 Currency

  • Look at your assignment and see what your instructor requires.
  • If your instructor didn’t mention dates, then think about your topic and whether it needs really current sources or older ones will do.
  • If you can’t find a date on a website, try to find the same information on a different website or in library databases.

Dates can be hard to find.

  • Check at the bottom of the page, “About us” links, and other links with information about the site to find the information.
  • If there is a copyright date plus an updated date, use the updated date.
  • If there is a range (2008-2010, for example), use the range (in other words, use 2008-2010 instead of a single year.
  • Yes, if you want to use a web page, then it’s your responsibility to either find a date or be able to list 3 or more places you checked.

Quality

  • Does the information agree with the other articles and sources that you’ve found?
  • If the information doesn’t agree with most of the other sources, do the authors clearly tell you why they disagree and present evidence to support their ideas?
  • If you have both web pages and a magazine or journal article that say the same thing, it’s usually better to use the magazine or journal articles, because it’s usually clear who wrote the articles and you know the name of the magazine or journal.

Trustworthy web sources

  • Web pages from universities, museums, other academically inclined institutions, or governments usually have trustworthy material.
  • Web pages from non-profit institutions are often trustworthy, although you need to watch for bias.
    • EXCEPTION: Universities and other institutions often allow students and others to post web pages. These web pages may be good quality or they may not.
  • Be extra-cautious when using web pages that are not clearly done by experts at the institution (experts = faculty, curators, etc.)
  • Using student or other web pages not written by experts increases your chances of accidentally plagiarizing.
  • Even when using web pages done by experts, be sure to evaluate for information quality. Experts can produce poor quality information too.

Detective work

How do you find all of the information listed above?  You have to look for it.  When evaluating and citing websites, you are expected to be a detective.

  • You need to be willing to track down dates, author information, etc.
  • Check “About Us”
  • Check “Contact Us”
  • Check out whatever looks like it might have information.
  • Don’t forget the bottom of the page – that’s often where copyright information is.

You are responsible for finding whatever information is available.

Don’t want to do all that work? Use an article from a library database or a scholarly search engine.

Other things to keep in mind when evaluating a source:

There is also the issue of your own personal biases.  It’s impossible to be completely free of bias when doing an academic paper or project.  The goal is to be as objective as possible.  You do this by presenting the major opposing viewpoints relating to your topic.  Papers and projects that present both sides are stronger because they show that the writer knows what s/he is talking about and that s/he can defend his/her position  against all comers.   Doing an argumentative paper?  In an argumentative paper you are defending one side of a question.  An argumentative paper will be stronger if you support your side by taking the points of the opposing side and demolishing them.

Avoid ad hominem arguments.  In ad hominem arguments, the person is attacked, not the argument.  If you use an ad hominem argument, you’ve already lost because people assume you are using an ad hominem argument because you can’t defend your position.

Example:  Calling someone a ‘commie liberal’ instead of explaining why you think gun control laws are wrong is an example of an ad hominem argument.

Be sure to attack the information,, not the person.

Sounds like evaluation is a lot of work, doesn’t it?  In the beginning, it can be.  Once you’ve had some practice, you should be able to evaluate almost automatically.  You need to know how  to evaluate  your sources because you are responsible for using the best information you can find for papers and other assignments.

*NOTE:  I do not have State Farm insurance.  This link is merely for educational purposes and should not be considered as any kind of endorsement for State Farm.

 

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Filed under Articles & Web Sources

Finding, citing & evaluating articles: pt. 1: subject databases

Subject Databases

Finding articles:  background

To make finding articles easier:

  • you need a good research question
  • you need good keywords and/or  key phrases
  • you need to use your keywords and phrases to develop a good search statement.  A search statement is just putting your keywords and key phrases together using AND, OR and NOT (see below)
  • you need to search for articles  in the right places
  • you need to choose articles that are:
    • directly relevant
    • the right type of article (scholarly, popular, primary, etc.)
    • good quality

In this reading, we’re going to look at using subject databases to find articles.  In the next reading, we’ll look at using OneSearch and finish up in the third reading by looking at scholarly search engines such as Google Scholar & PubMed.

There are some basic terms you need to know to be able to find the best articles.

  • Article:  a written piece of non-fiction, complete in itself, found in periodicals, on the web and, sometimes in books. (adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_(publishing))
  • Periodical: a published work that appears in a new version on a regular schedule. The most common examples are journals, magazines and newspapers.  Periodicals may available be in print, online or, for older ones, on microform. (adapted from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodical)
  •  Journal:  a periodical that contains scholarly articles.  Most articles are  peer reviewed (also known as refereed.)  CAUTION:  even scholarly journals contain material that is not scholarly, such as opinions, letters, editorials, book reviews, etc.
  • Trade journals.  The articles in trade journals are aimed at people in a specific field.  Most articles are related to how work is done in that field.
  •  Magazine:  a periodical whose content is aimed at a general audience.  Most magazines are published weekly or monthly.   Articles in magazines are popular or trade.
    • Just to make life more confusing, there are a few magazines that contain scholarly articles.  Science (US) and Nature (UK) are the most famous examples.  These magazines, and a few others that publish scholarly articles, date back into the late 1800s when the terms were less defined.   Unless told otherwise, assume a periodical is popular if it has “magazine” in its title.
  •  Newspapers: periodicals that are published daily and sometimes weekly (usually in smaller towns.)  Their content is popular.
  •  News Reports:  These are the video and online equivalent of newspaper articles.  They may be written articles on a news site such as CNN, or they can be video reports from broadcast, cable/satellite or online sources such as ABC, CBS,NBC, & PBS among others.  Treat them as you would a newspaper article.  CAUTION:  video reports can be good sources, but not all instructors accept them.  Ask first!
  •  Newsletters are a subcategory of newspapers.  They may be print or online.
    • Much smaller – often just two or 3 regular size pages
    • Usually monthly or quarterly (four times a year.)
    • Often trade:  Public Health Nursing Newsletter
    • Can be popular:  Berkeley Wellness Newsletter
    • Instructors usually prefer a journal, magazine or newspaper article over a newsletter article.
CAUTION:  magazines, newspapers and newsletters often report on studies of interest to their readers.  These articles are NOT scholarly.   How do you tell?  The original study will be in a journal, it will have a section on methodology,  and an extensive reference list.  A report on the study in a popular periodical will often include who did the study and where they got the information.  This is usually enough to help you find the original study.  If you have problems, ask a librarian for help.
As usual, reports on historical topics are a bit trickier.  Basically, if it’s in a magazine or newspaper or on the web, assume that you need to find the original article. As with more scientific topics, a good popular article will give you enough information to find the original.
Articles  not in periodicals:  these days you can find articles on the web that are  not in periodicals.  These include general web pages, blog posts, Wikipedia articles, etc.  See the sections on web sources.
Library article databases:  specialized search engines that search databases containing articles.  Article databases  can be general, covering many fields, for example:  Academic Search Premier.  They can also be very specific, covering one field or a group of related fields, for example:  PsycInfo.  
The articles in  databases come from periodicals and occasionally books.  Many are available in full-text.  Full-text may be available  from the database you’re searching, or you may need to click a link and find the full-text in a different database.
In a few cases, you may need to borrow the article on interlibrary loan.  Often, you can get an article in 24 – 48 hours (Monday – Friday).  Often is not always. Do NOT count on all articles arriving in 24 – 48 hours, especially not during the last few weeks of the semester.
For additional definitions, see the Glossary of Library Terms on Canvas.  On the course home page, look at the right menu near the center.   Click on the link.  Once you’re on the page, click on the PDF link to pull up the file.
NEVER, EVER  PAY for an article.  I repeat:  NEVER, EVER  PAY for an article.   Check with the reference desk for ways to find it or get it for free  from interlibrary loan.
Back to important definitions:
EBSCO/Ebscohost is NOT a database.  EBSCO is a vendor or publisher  (selling & publishing  publisher (putting the content on the web) and an aggregator (collecting content from different journals, magazines, etc.)     EBSCOHost is the  platform, or software, you use to access the information.
Proquest and Gale Cengage are two of the largest database vendors/publishers and aggregators after Ebsco.
  • You must keep track of which database you are using:
    • to make sure you don’t search the same database over and over
    • because some citation styles require you to use the database name in the citation
    • to make it easy for you to find again
The fastest way is to keep track of databases is to keep a list of the names you click on in the library’s list of databases.  Keep a Word or Google Drive or Docs document or put all downloads from a database into a file labeled with a name such as ABI/Inform Global.  However you do it, keep track.  You’ll be happy you did once you start writing the paper.

 Finding articles:  search statements

A search statement is what you type in the find information.  It can be as simple as one word, or as complex as several phrases combined using the boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).
People usually find it easier to figure out search statements if they can see the steps, so check below for a step by step description of the process.

Finding articles:  choosing a subject database

After you’ve come up with your keywords/phrases and a basic search statement, the next step is choosing the best subject database.   Once you learn about OneSearch and Google Scholar (or maybe you already use them), you may wonder why you need to use subject databases.  There are several reasons:
  • They are often the best and fastest to place to find good articles on a topic
  • You may be required to use them for upper level courses
  • Often, your instructor will require you to use subject databases

How do you tell the best databases in your field?

  • Do it the easy way:  ask a librarian.
  • Click on the blue pancakes icon on the library’s home page and find the subject closest to your topic.
    • The top 2 – 5 databases are listed for each subject area
    • Check the descriptions.  If the top databases don’t work, scroll down and read down the titles and descriptions until you find one that suits your topic.
Avoid these Ebscohost databases:
  • Searchasaurus – this is aimed at grade school students
  • Primary Search – also aimed at grade school students
  • Middle Search – aimed at middle school students
Use with care:
  • TopicSearch – a current events database aimed at high school students
  • MAS Ultra – aimed at high school students.   It’s okay to use, but has mostly popular sources.

NOTE:  most of the information in the above databases is also found in Academic Search Premier

  SEE my list of suggested databases on Canvas.  Go to the course home page.  On the left side, click on  “Pages”  Click on the “all pages” button above the text, then click on the “Suggested Databases” link.

 Tips for choosing the best database
  •  look at the requirements for your paper or project
  • determine what kinds of sources you need:  primary/second, popular/scholarly/trade. (Check out Information Types & Formats if you don’t remember what each is)
    • Some databases, such as Academic Search Premier, have scholarly, popular & trade journals, magazines and newspapers.  Academic Search Premier is a good database to begin with for most topics.
    • Some databases, such as Sociological Abstracts, focus on one subject and have only (or mostly) scholarly articles.
    • Some databases, such as Proquest Newsstand cover many subjects and have only popular and trade articles.
 REMEMBER:  As a rule, only newspaper and magazine articles are available for very current topics.  It can take a year or more for a scholarly article to be published, even in a journal that’s only published online, because of the review process.

Finding Articles:  searching subject databases

In this section, we’ll look at developing a good search statement.  Remember that when you’re looking for articles you need a more specific search statement than you will when searching for books.  There are a lot more articles than books and articles are about more specific topics than books.  This means you can focus your search more than you can when looking for books.
Won’t a general search statement work for articles?  Yes, if you want to wade through pages of articles and cross your fingers you’ll get lucky and find something on the first page.  Using a good search statement will make it possible for you to find better articles without scrolling through pages of articles.
A focused topic with fewer but better sources is a lot easier to write about than trying to figure out what to write about from a big pile of papers.
More is NOT better when it comes to searching for academic resources.

The bad news about search statements is that you may need to tweak  or even rewrite your search statement to find the best articles.

I’m going to start with Academic Search Premier.

NOTE:  I am using an older research question because it shows more clearly how you may need to play around with words and phrases and their order.  Searching for information about people, such as Galla Placidia, is always easier because the one important term you’re looking for is a person’s name.  Even name searching can be a problem, though, if the person used different names or spellings or you are dealing with names from a language such as Chinese, where there are several different ways of spelling the name in English..

Because most databases share similar structures, what you learn using Academic Search Premier as an example will transfer to other library subject databases.   The trick is to avoid letting the superficial differences get in the way. Focusing on the similarities between databases will make it easier for you to learn how to use new databases on your own.  OR, you can just ask a librarian for help.  Remember, we have phone, text, chat and email, plus you can always stop by the reference desk and ask.

Most article databases begin with a basic search page. Usually, you will see a single search box that looks like Google.    Like Google, library databases allow you to limit your search.  Unlike Google, they have many more options.  Dates, type of article, location, etc. are all things you can use to limit your search to the most useful articles.

DO NOT LIMIT TO FULLTEXT BEFORE SEARCHING!  If you limit before searching, you will miss all the articles that are available from other databases and make the search harder for yourself.

If the basic search plus limits is not finding what you need, then look for a link that says Advanced Search.  It will give you more options than you probably want.  When using advanced search you need to read the directions or go the easy route and ask a librarian.

The research question I’m using for this reading is:  Did Lord Elgin’s contemporaries consider his acquisition of the Parthenon marbles legal?  The keywords/phrases I developed are:  “Elgin Marbles,”  “Parthenon marbles,” controversy, acquisition, legality, contemporary.

First, you need to access the database.  You can do this from home or on-campus.  If you’re at home, the system will ask you for your Weber user name and password.  This is your regular Weber user  name and password that you use for the portal, Canvas, etc.  NOTE:  you may not be able to access databases from work – it depends on the security setup.

Pioneer:  Utah’s Online Library

You can access Academic Search Premier and many other databases without signing in at:  http://pioneer.utah.gov  the new link is:  http://onlinelibrary.utah.gov – both links are still working for now.   In the first column, click on:  Alphabetical List and Information About All Databases (or follow this link.)  If the name has either Restricted Access or Library Card Required, you will need a public library card to access – a few may be accessible only to K-12 students.  Databases that don’t require a sign in are available only within the boundaries of the state of Utah.  If you’re out-of-state, you will need to use Stewart Library’s databases or access databases from your public library home page and use your public library card to sign in. (If you’re interested, the databases that don’t require a sign-in use geolocation – you’re considered an acceptable patron as long as you stay in-state – the system recognizes Utah based internet addresses.)

Stewart Library has a large number of specialty databases that aren’t available via Pioneer or public libraries, so you may need to use our databases as well.  If you are no longer a student, you are welcome to walk in and use the databases in the library.  Only current students, faculty & staff can use databases from home or other off campus locations.

You must access WSU databases through the library’s website to get access.

Go to:  http://library.weber.edu.  Click on the blue pancakes icon.  You’ll see a link to Academic Search Premier (ASP) right above the list of letters.  If you are off-campus, you will be asked for a user name and password.  This is your usual WSU username and password.

 

Let’s start with the basic search page.  (Remember to click on the image to enlarge it.)

Basic Search Screen for Academic Search Premier

Ebsco Basic Search Screen
Courtesy EBSCO

Let’s focus just on the search box.  Type in your search.  Usually, you’ll need to use several terms.  Not sure whether to use AND or not?  Try the search without AND.  If you find what you want, great.  If not, search again, using AND.   Remember to indicate key phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks.

So, for my research question: Did Lord Elgin’s contemporaries consider his acquisition of the Parthenon marbles legal?   I need to start with a specific search statement.  Remember,  you need to be specific when you search for articles.  So, I might start with something like:

Academic Search Premier basic search screen

Ebsco Basic Search Screen – this one is Academic Search Premier
Courtesy of Ebsco

 

And, I’ll get something like this:

An Academic Search Premier search with no results

Academic Search Premier – no results
Courtesy of Ebsco

Most people’s immediate reaction is to broaden the search.  I probably do have too many keywords/phrases.  However, I also need to change my keywords/phrases.  Usually, when you don’t find anything, you need to subtract keywords and not use as many.   Next, try different keywords.   Occasionally, you will need to change databases.  For this topic, I might want to try an art database.

Not sure what the Parthenon Marbles (AKA Elgin Marbles) are?  Check out the Wikipedia article.

Now it’s time to start playing around with terms, boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT) and with the number of keywords/phrases.

  • I start by dropping “acquisition” and “controversy” since those terms are understood for this subject.   (this technique does not work for all subjects)
  • Next, I try replacing some of my terms.  I try: “Elgin Marbles” AND history AND legality.  
    • Keywords  like “contemporary” don’t really work unless you’re looking for something like “contemporary art.”
    • History” gets at the idea that I want to find information on Lord Elgin’s time.
    • I find one article, but it’s about the current debate over repatriation of the marbles and it doesn’t discuss the views of people in Lord Elgin’s time.
  • I try “Elgin Marbles” AND history AND controversy
    • I find another article, but it’s about the current debate, too.
    • It mentions the fact that Lord Elgin’ contemporaries felt what he had done was illegal,  but one sentence is not enough.   As a rule, you need several on-topic paragraphs before you can claim an article is a source.
  • Since the marbles are controversial and the previous article mentions people at the time felt what he did was illegal, I drop controversy and type in:  “Lord Elgin” AND marbles AND history.
    • I find several articles and a couple of them have information.  The articles are relevant, but don’t provide much information.
  •  NOTE:  I might have decided that my problem was the fact that I didn’t know if it was better to use “legality” or “legal.”  You can search for both terms in two different ways.
    • Use OR.  Remember to put parentheses around the terms connected with OR.  So:   (legal OR legality)
    • Another way is to use truncation.
      •  The * symbol (shift-8 on the keyboard) will find different endings starting from the letter before the *. So, if I type legal*, the system would find:  legal, legality.  Histor* would find history, historieshistorical, historian.
      • Be careful not to truncate too much.  Rat* finds rat, rats, ratio, rational, rationale, rating, ratings, etc.  This is too general to be useful.  In fact, you will just make work for yourself if you truncate too much.
      • The asterisk (*) is a wildcard.  When you use a wildcard to find different endings, you are using truncation.
    • NOTE:  Most search engines do not allow truncation or wildcards.  They do something called stemming, which produces results similar  to truncation.  If stemming doesn’t help, then combine the terms with OR – remember to put parentheses around the terms connected with OR.  NOTE:  Google & Google Scholar now allow truncation using the asterisk symbol (*.)

At this point, I need to switch to a more specific database such as Art Fulltext.  Art Fulltext looks like Academic Search Premier, but covers more art journals and doesn’t cover general magazines and newspapers.  I’m going to use the search that worked best in Academic Search Premier.

 

Art Fulltext basic screen

Basic search screen for Art Fulltext (Ebsco.)
Courtesy of Ebsco.

 

This search finds two articles.  The first one looks really good until I read the abstract.  It may have a little bit of information, but not a lot.

How to read the Art Fulltext result screen.

How to read the Art Fulltext result screen.
Courtesy of Ebsco.

 

I try a couple of other searches  – “Lord Elgin AND history AND marbles is the first search.  The second search is “Lord Elgin AND  legal* (note the use of truncation.)    I decided that I didn’t need to use “marbles” as a term because article in an art database would most likely be about the Elgin Marbles.

I found about 10 more articles, but none of them were really relevant.  At this point, I decide to use a database that covers history and art – JSTOR.  JSTOR stands for Journal Storage.  JSTOR was created to make sure that the online versions of older journals (and a few magazines) were kept.   In the beginning, JSTOR had only the older articles.  Now there are some current articles, plus some books. (NOTE:  we do not have access to the books or the current articles.)

However, most of the JSTOR database still consists of articles that are at least 3-5 years old.  The majority of these articles are available in fulltext.  Because of the subjects that it covers, JSTOR can be a very good place to look for articles on history and art and even some science subjects.  However, because you are missing the most recent 3-5 years, you must check another database for more current information.  If you don’t check for more current articles, you could miss a critically important paper.

Never use JSTOR alone.  Always check a different article database for more current information.

 

Doing a search on JSTOR.

Doing a search on JSTOR.
Courtesy of JSTOR.

 

ALWAYS USE ADVANCED SEARCH ON JSTOR.  ALWAYS!  (Unless you like doing extra work.)

 

JSTOR results page.

JSTOR results page.
Courtesy of JSTOR.

 

This time, I found 65 sources and some of them are relevant to  my topic.  However, a lot of the sources have nothing to do with my topic. If I only needed two or three articles, I’d probably browse through until I found a couple that would work.

If you need more than two or three articles, there are several things you can do. The easiest way to find more sources is to look at the record for one of the relevant sources, see what subject and/or title terms they used and try some of them.  If  you’ve tried several different searches and still don’t find anything, you probably need to switch to a different database or do it the easy way and ask a librarian for ideas.

Sometimes you can get a list of subject headings from the results list. (Note:  for JSTOR, you need to look at the article title and the abstract or article summary if there is one.)

Finding keywords on the results screen. Courtesy of Ebsco.

Finding keywords on the results screen.
Courtesy of Ebsco.

Other times, you need to look at the complete record.  Click on the article title to pull up the record. (On Ebsco databases, you can also mouse over the page icon with the magnifying glass on the right of the title.)

Finding keywords on a full record.

Finding keywords on a full record.
Courtesy of Ebsco.

Avoid the temptation to limit to full text.  Limiting to full text could result in you missing the perfect article.  When you click on the Find Fulltext link,  you may get several different responses:

  • the system will  take you directly to the article
  • the system will take you to the journal’s home page.  You must then find the right year, volume, page number, etc.  For older articles, you will often need to find a link to Archives
  • the system will take you to a database page – look for the PDF link to access the article
  • the system will take you to a journal finding page.   The page will often have 2 or more options.  Look at the dates and choose the one that covers the date your article was published
    NOTE:  if you have a choice, avoid EJS and Lexis/Nexis links
  • the system will take you to a page that states you will need to get the article via interlibrary loan.  There will be a button to click on to go to the ILL form. Remember, we can often get articles in 24-48 hours, Monday – Friday.

NOTE:  Occasionally, you’ll run into a topic where we don’t seem to have any fulltext.  That happened to me with this topic.  I had to go to the second page to find an example.  If you can’t find full text for an article you want,  ask a librarian to show you how to use interlibrary loan – we can usually get an article for you (electronically, from another library) in 24-48 hours.  During the last few weeks of school, it may take longer.

Once you find the article in another database, you need to find the PDF of the article.  Always click on the PDF to make sure you get any charts, graphics, images, etc.   You may have to search for the PDF link.  Usually, it’s somewhere near the start of the article.  However, it can be at the top right or left of the page, right about the article text, under a picture of the issue, buried in the citation information, etc.  Having trouble?  Ask for help.

 

Always try to find the PDF of your article.

Always try to find the PDF of your article.
Courtesy of JSTOR

 

Need more articles?  If you found a lot on Academic Search Premier, you can use them or you can redo your search using different keywords.  However, you might find  better articles by changing to a subject specific database.  As was the case with my topic, I had to try a couple of different subject specific databases. (Welcome to the wonderful world of historical research.)

Remember – library article databases may look different, but with the exception of specialty databases (for example:  accounting), they are structured the same.  You just need to look around, figure out what’s going on and then start to search.  As always, you can go the easy route and ask a librarian for help.

 

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Filed under Articles, Articles & Web Sources

Finding, citing & evaluating articles: finding pt. 2: OneSearch

OneSearch

In the reading on Evaluation, I wrote:

Back in the dark ages when I was an undergraduate, sources were hard to find but easy to evaluate. Students these days have the opposite problem. Sources are very easy to find, but can be very hard to evaluate.

While sources are very easy to find, finding the types of sources your professor wants you  to use can be difficult for a number of reasons:

  • you don’t know where to look
  • you don’t know the best library database  for your topic
  • you don’t know what a library database is (much less how to use it)
  • you don’t really know what the professor wants
  • you really just want to use Google and Wikipedia and be done with it

We’ve tried to simplify the process in several ways:

  • the Library  website has a list of databases arranged by title and by subject.
    • On the Library’s home page, click on the blue pancakes icon (center).
      • Choose the subject area closest to your topic
      • The most important databases in that subject are listed at the top
  • We create subject and class specific guides, called Libguides, that suggest the best databases for a specific subject areas.

While these lists and guides can be useful, they don’t always help:

  • we have over 235 databases, but we only refer to a small number on any given guide.
  • if you’re doing research that is interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, or multidisciplinary ;for example, a B.I.S capstone project, you may need to look in three or four or more databases, plus a scholarly search engine such as Google Scholar.

Over the past few years, companies have responded to this problem by developing discovery systems.  In the simplest terms, a discovery system encompasses most of a library’s information – books, articles, streaming music and videos, and digitized information from the University’s Archives and Special Collections.  (This means you can find primary documents from Special Collections & Archives that have been digitized.)

Stewart Library has implemented  a discovery system we’re calling OneSearch.  The company calls the system Summon, which you may see occasionally.

Using OneSearch  

OneSearch URL:   http://onesearch.weber.edu  or find a search box in the center  of the library’s home page.

NOTE:  if you are searching off-campus ALWAYS click on the small OneSearch link under the search box.  You must sign in from off-campus if you want to find the fulltext articles.

The OneSearch search box is similar to other search boxes.  (Click on the image to enlarge.)

 

OneSearch basic search screende

OneSearch basic search screen

 

If you’re off campus, OneSearch works a bit differently from our other databases.  You can do a search and read through the results (citations & abstracts) without typing in your WSU user name and password.   When you click on a “Find Fulltext”  link OneSearch will  ask for your user name & password then.

HOWEVER, the problem with searching without logging in is that you’ll miss things from a number of our most important subject databases such as PsycInfo, Econlit, MLA Bibliography and America:  History and Life.   These (and a few others) are  indexing and abstracting databases.  That means all you get is a citation and abstract or summary and if you’re lucky, a link to an article in another database.

If you’re off-campus, just log in and you won’t have to worry about it.

OFF CAMPUS?  BE SURE TO LOG IN BY CLICKING ON THE LINK IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER.  Ignore the log in link on the upper right hand corner.
NOTE: bar color is now bluish rather than yellow.

RATHER WATCH A VIDEO THAN READ?  FOLLOW THIS ONESEARCH LINK FOR A VIDEO VERSION.

Once you’ve done a search, you’ll get a result screen.  On the left side, there’s a menu you can use to limit your search in various ways. The right side is the preview pane.  As you mouse over a title,  you’ll see information about the source appear. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The OneSearch results page.

111111 The OneSearch results page.

Need to narrow your search?  Use the limits from the menu on the left side.  You can narrow by date, by peer review, by journal article or subject matter.  The numbers after each option indicate the number of sources left when you use that limit.

Example of the limit fields

Use the limits on the left to eliminate sources that aren’t useful for you.

When should you use OneSearch?  It’s best for lower level research and research where an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach is need.  Or when you haven’t found anything using our other databases.

OneSearch is also good for searching databases we don’t own:  databases owned by other schools who use the same system can be searched if you check the “include results from outside your library’s collection.”

If you want to use OneSearch to search for materials for advanced classes, be sure to use the Advanced Search feature.  Find it by clicking the icon (it changes depending on the browser you’re using) to the right of the Search button on the basic search page.

Doing advanced work?  Figure out the best databases in your field and use them directly.  Individual databases will always have more powerful search features and take you to good articles more directly

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Finding, citing & evaluating articles: finding pt. 3: scholarly search engines

Scholarly Search Engines

Stewart Library has access to over 230 article databases.  That’s a small percentage of what’s available.  The University of Utah, Utah State and BYU all have many databases that we do not.

You can walk into those libraries and use their databases (you can also use your Wildcard to checkout books.)   However, unless you’re doing in-depth research for a senior thesis,  capstone project or undergraduate research grant, you probably don’t need to head south (or north.)

Scholarly search engines can often fill in gaps in the subject content covered by Stewart Library’s databases.  The two  most useful ones are Google Scholar, and Pubmed.  A third, Scirius, has unfortunately ceased operation. MicroSoft Academic Search has some nice features, but is currently dormant with only a small database to search.  Wolfram Alpha works best for finding specific answers, especially in science & mathematics.  It does not have the kind of articles you need to find for papers.

Google Scholar

Let’s look at Google Scholar first.  Like Academic Search PremierGoogle Scholar covers all fields.

  • The first thing you need to do is to set Google Scholar  up to link to Stewart Library articles.
  • Once you’ve completed the setup, go directly to:  http://scholar.google.com.
  • Start by typing your research question (not your search statement) into the search box.
  • If you aren’t finding many useful articles,  try using a search statement.
  • If you have access to the article via Stewart Library, there will be a link saying Full-text @ Weber State
  • You may also be able to link to full articles elsewhere.  Look for links that say something like:  PDF from …  Be careful that you have the full article.  Some links go to draft versions.
  • Can’t find a link?  Try clicking on the versions link (for example:  All 7 versions).  You’ll find a link to the article just often enough to make it worth your time clicking the link.

Google Scholar has another useful feature:  “cited by.”  If you click on the cited by link, it takes you to a list of articles that use the original article you found in their works cited/bibliography/reference list.  This is an easy way to find more articles related to your topic.  For older articles, a large number of “cited by” references can be used as a rough indication of the importance of the article.  The more the article is cited, the more important (usually) it is.

CAUTION:  Google Scholar contains different types of sources.  It is your responsibility to be able to tell the difference between a book, an article, a patent, etc.   Google Scholar labels books [BOOK], but you’re on your own for articles and other types of sources.  One type of source you may find is a white paper.  White papers are not usually considered scholarly.  Most are policy statements on a specific issue written by people who are experts in the field.  However, they are not peer reviewed or refereed as a rule.  White papers can be very valuable sources, but make sure your instructor accepts them.  Ask, don’t just stick them in  your reference list and cross your fingers.  Professors in fields like political science, social work and sociology are more likely to accept white papers as sources.

Google Scholar does have an advanced search, but they’ve simplified it and unfortunately have dropped a number of useful limits.

To access information from the library, look for the Full text @ Weber State  link.  (These images date to a period before we changed the link name.)

Using Google Scholar.

Using Google Scholar.
Courtesy of Google.

Click on the Full-Text@Weber State.  In most cases, this will take you directly to the article. Occasionally, the system won’t find the article and you’ll need to look it up.  The information you need is on the right sidebar.  If you haven’t signed in already, the system will prompt you for your WSU user name and password before letting you see the article.

 

The OneSearch linking page

The OneSearch linking page
Courtesy of JSTOR & Proquest

The linking system is good, but it is not 100% accurate.  If you can’t find an important article, ask a librarian for other options.

CAUTION:   If you consistently use Google Scholar (and regular Google) on the same  computer, it brings up results that the system thinks you will like based on your previous searches.  That means you might miss a really good article.  The easy way to get around this is to use a school or work computer when you need to make sure you’ve got all possible sources.   The less easy way is to clear your history, cookies, etc.  You can also try a search engine that doesn’t track your searches, such as duckduckgo; however, it doesn’t list many scholarly articles.

PubMed

The second important scholarly search engine is Pubmed.  Unlike Google Scholar, Pubmed  focuses on the health sciences, which limits its usefulness in other fields.  Pubmed does list historical articles, but they are related to the history of medicine.  If you are writing a paper on Typhoid Mary or cholera and the westward movement or the Black Death, check Pubmed.

Pubmed has the full text of many articles available free of charge to everyone.

Accessing PubMed (PMC)

Accessing PubMed (PMC)
Courtesy NIH.

Searching PubMed (PMC)

Searching PubMed (PMC)
Courtesy NIH

 

In most cases, you can find what you need on PubMed.  However, if you want to search a broader range of articles, try PubMed/Medline.   This database has some fulltext.  You need to go through the Stewart Library link to see what’s available.  PubMed/Medline is listed on the Article Databases page under “P” or the various “Health” subjects.

The scholarly search engines can be very useful back ups for the library databases; however, they do not replace library databases.  In most cases, you need to start with library databases.

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