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Research Skills Tutorial

This is a self-paced, non-credit course that covers research skills, critical thinking, media and internet literacy, and understanding the complexities of the modern information environment (including libraries.)

Authority

How do we know that the author or authors are experts? We can examine their curriculum vitae (C.V.), their publication history, and the response their work has received from other experts in the field.

Examine the author's curriculum vitae

  • From the author's C.V. we can learn that:
    • The author has published through reputable journals or publishers.
    • The author has been employed by reputable institutions.
    • The author has the right educational credentials.
  • From the author's publication history we can learn whether:
    • Those publications have been well-reviewed.
    • Those publications have been frequently cited by other authors.

A curriculum vitae is a combination resume and publication list for people who work in academia. Most people put their curriculum vitae online, whether on a personal website, a jobs website, or their biographical page on their institution's website. To locate one, you can usually just do a Web search (e.g., "G.J. Barker-Benfield" "curriculum vitae")

What to look for:

  1. First, you want to make sure there is a C.V. Unless the author died or retired before 2000, there should be one online. If not, they may not actually be a scholar. 
  2. Second, you want to read about their education. Do they have one or more PhDs? 
    • In a subject area that is relevant to your research?
    • From accredited institutions?
    • From institutions that are known for their excellence in that subject area? For example, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is renowned for its architects and engineers, but not for literature or educational studies.
  3. Third, look at their employment history. Have they gotten jobs researching and teaching at the college level in their subject area? 
    • At accredited institutions?
    • At institutions with a good reputation for that subject area?
    • The job market is tough for scholars. Do not discount research just because the author is an adjunct or works at a college whose name you do not recognize. 
  4. Fourth, what kinds of honors they have achieved?
    • Leadership roles in professional and scholarly associations
    • Awards
    • Grants
  5. Fifth, how much they have published about your topic of interest? Also, what publishers and journals have accepted their work? Some publishers and journals have stricter standards than others, and it really says something good about an author's research if is being published in them.

Use Google Scholar to find citation counts.

There are special (and expensive) tools that scholars can use to measure impact factor, but you will not need those. To get a general idea of how many times a particular work has been cited (its impact factor), you can use Google Scholar. Search for the author(s). Then, under the works listed in the search results, look for the phrase "Cited by" follow by a number (highlighted in red below). This is the number of times other published scholars have referenced this work in their research. You can click it to view a list of the works that cited it. Run some searches on articles on the same topic, published at the same time to get a basis for comparison.

Screenshot of a Google Scholar search results page showing both books and articles by author barker-benfield. Under each search result is a Cited By number (which you can click to see what information sources actually cited it.)

Use databases to find reviews of monographs in journals

A scholarly book of any significance is going to be reviewed in scholarly journals in that subject area, and whether a work has received a negative or positive review matters less than the actual strengths and weaknesses that the review identifies.

To find scholarly reviews:

 

  1. Go to the OneSearch box on the library web site.
  2. Enter title of the book (in quotation marks) and search.
  3. Use the navigation bar on the left side of the search results to narrow by Source Type to Reviews.
  4. If your book has a very common title, you might want to narrow things down. 
    • Add AND "author's last name" to the title and try the search again.
    • Limit by date (the publication date of the book plus a year or two).

Book reviews usually appear as follows in the search results list:

Screenshot of the OneSearch search results list with two book reviews highlighted. One says The Culture of Sensibility (Book Review) where "book review" is in parentheses. The other says "The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Book), where book is in parentheses.

 

Use New York Times Book Review and Choice to find reviews of non-scholarly books

Most non-scholarly sources are never reviewed. You will not find reviews for websites, blogs, or the many kinds of gray literature that are found on the Web. However, many high quality non-fiction books will be reviewed in either the New York Times Book Review or in Choice Magazine.

Use OneSearch to find critical responses to scholarly articles

When you have a scholarly article that covers one point of view about a topic, you may wish to find articles that criticize or rebut it.

To find these kinds of critical responses:

  1. Use the OneSearch box on the library website.
  2. Enter the article title (in quotation marks).
  3. At the top of your list of preliminary search results, click the Advanced Search link underneath the search box.
  4. Look at the date that the original article was published and limit your search to that year and beyond. For example, if the article came out in 2009, set your search to 2009-2012 (or the current year.)
  5. Set the pull-down menu next to the search box to Title (TI).
  6. Search for (“author’s last name” OR “short title of the article”) AND (“critique of” OR “response to” OR “response from”).

For example, if your original article is “Two Faces of Power” by Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz, enter this:

(“two faces of power” OR (bachrach AND baratz)) AND (“critique of” OR “response to” OR “response from”)

Bear in mind that not every article receives direct responses. If you have tried several variations on the search and have not had any luck, even with a librarian’s help, you are probably better off just searching for articles on the same topic to see what others are saying about it.

Accessibility Note

Please note: If you need to request accommodations with content linked to on this guide, on the basis of a disability, please contact Disability Services by emailing them at Disability.Services@esc.edu.  Requests for accommodations should be submitted as early as possible to allow for sufficient planning. If you have questions, please visit the disability services website http://www.esc.edu/disabilityservices.