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ENGL 112: English Composition - Davis

What is a database anyway?

How many times have you watched something on YouTube today? Are Netflix and Hulu a regular part of your weekend plans? Bought something on Amazon.com lately or looked for a review on IMDB? You use databases all of the time and using library databases is really not much different. You will notice the similarities right away: some sort of menu (categories, pictures, etc.) to browse from and a search bar are standard features that help you to discover and locate things you want. Things are organized in a database and, when you use the search bar, you may have to use the keywords or tags that are attached to what you want to find. That's why getting some background on your topic can be important when you start looking for specific information and articles -- the keywords in a subject or topic are the language that helps you communicate with the database and make it work for you.

Good Places to Start

Don't have a topic idea yet? Or have a general area of interest and want to browse your way to a more specific issue or discussion within it? Need keywords to use to find  in the general Library Try these easy-to-use database resources:

Reliable Places to find "Google-able" Facts and Background Information (with citations!)

Funk & Wagnalls New World EncyclopediaNothing like a general encyclopedia to find a way to find, verify, and cite facts you are used to "googling." Learn to recognize what trustworthy web articles look like. Find associations and connections to help you explore your topic and find keywords to search further. Citations included!

Gale Virtual Reference Library - A bookshelf of virtual reference books in a wide variety of subject areas from business to biology and history to health that you might enjoy if you liked exploring the Opposing Viewpoints database. Citations included!

Oxford Reference -  A one stop shop for your reference needs -- English and bilingual dictionaries, timelines, quotations, overviews, and  reference sources for all subjects. A great place to browse your subject area if you are looking for a topic, to get cited definitions for special terms, and to get background and language (keywords) to use when you look for your scholarly articles or primary sources. Citations included!

Evaluating Internet Sources with PAARC

PAARC can help you remember the evaluation techniques you should use when determining whether or not to use an Internet source for research.  If you use these techniques, your research will be as easy as a "walk in the PAARC" (Yes, I know, LAME!)  PAARC stands for:

  • PURPOSEThe reason the information exists
  • ACCURACY: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content
  • AUTHORITYThe source of the information
  • RELEVANCEThe importance of the information for your needs
  • CURRENCYThe timeliness of the information

______________

PAARC concepts rearranged but taken from Meriam Library, California State University, Chico, consulted September 28, 2011.
 
 

PURPOSEThe reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade? -- Check the URL of the site to help determine any bias: .com (commercial, trying to sell something--beware of the pharmaceuticals reporting "scientific" findings); .edu (educational, but may be elementary/secondary level); .gov (governmental agency); .org (non-profit organization; may be something trustworthy like the United Nations; may be something like poitico.org, a political organization or a religious .org site promoting an ideology.
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear? --Check the "About Us" section of the website to see if they are clear about their intentions.
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?-- Does what is said contradict what other authors or sites are saying or agree with them?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial? --Do they use inflammatory or objective language?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases? --Are they promoting an ideology, trashing another, promoting a product over another?

ACCURACY: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from? --Are there references, links to other sources?
  • Is the information supported by evidence? --Do they provide a trail of evidence or do they only  make claims and assumptions.
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed? --Does it say it has been reviewed or referreed? Have other experts looked at it?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge? Compare the information with 2-3 other sources.
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors? --If so, it is not a scholarly work.

Tips for checking Accuracy

Can you Verify the Information?

Is there a bibliography or a list of related links?  Are there in-text references?  All of these, or lack thereof, are signs of credibility.  You should only trust sites that provide enough information for you to be able to trace it back to the original source.

AUTHORITYThe source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor? --Look under About Us on the website.  Look for an author's name. "Google" the author to find out more about him or her. Check the web URL (Domain name) at Internic's Who Is site.
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic? --If the author is a doctor writing about medical things, well enough.  If the author is a doctor writing about a theological perspective, maybe not. If a journalist writes about something, use that article to find the scholarly article upon which the news article is based.
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address? Check About Us, Contact Us (at bottom of website)
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? e.g. .com .edu .gov .org .net

Tips for Checking Authority

Who Links to the Site?

One way to judge whether the information on a site is reasonably trustworthy is to see who else believes in the site enough to place a link back to it on their own web site or to refer their viewers to the site.  To check who is referring others to this site by linking to it, go into Google and type in "link:thesiteurl".  The results list that comes up will show you who has linked to this site from their own site.  By looking down the result list, you can quickly see if education, library, or government sites are linking to the site in question.  Or perhaps you see only bloggers, activist groups and such linking to it.  That should tell you if other authorities trust the site.

Look for Information on the Site Itself

Check the web site itself (About Us or at the bottom of the home page) for the name of the publisher or author.  If it is an article within a web site, look for an author's name at the top or bottom of the article.  If there is an author's name, "google" the name to see if you can find out more about the person and who they are, what their credentials are, and who they may work for or be connected with.

Check the URL

A URL ending means different things:

.edu = educational site (may be an elementary school or a university)

.gov = US government site

.org = non-profit organization (may be trustworthy such as the United Nations or biased such as a political advocacy group)

.com = commercial site -- even if the site looks reputable it is there to sell something (especially beware of pharmaceutical or medical sites with lofty sounding research but that have a .com site)

RELEVANCEThe importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question? 
  • Who is the intended audience? -- Is the audience grade school? general public? scholarly?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper? --Why or why not?

Tips for checking Relevance

Using the 'who links to the site' tip as found on the authority tab may help you identify the intended audience of this information.

CURRENCYThe timeliness of the information
  • When was the information published or posted? --Medicine and technology (5 years); other fields (5-10 years); literature and history (time is less important).
  • Has the information been revised or updated? Check the "Last Revised" date at the bottom of the website.
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional? --If links are broken, it means that the site is not being updated.