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Geology Writing Guide

Evaluating Search Results

Start by understanding your assignment:

The most important place to begin when evaluating potential sources for relevance is to have a good understanding of your assignment.  Read your assignment carefully and clarify with your professor any aspects that you aren’t certain about.  Also, develop a clear and concise research question/thesis statement against which you can evaluate potential sources.

Tips for examining potential sources:

  • When using library databases to find sources, you will initially have only the brief citations from your search results to evaluate.  The titles will be your first indication of the items content.  Click on an item’s title and look at the full database record to get more information.   For an article, you may find an abstract/summary.  In both cases, you may see a list of subject headings that represent key aspects of the content.  Use all of this information to determine how closely the item aligns with your research question.
  • If you are able to display the full article, look at the introduction section.  This is where the author(s) will provide background information about the context of their research question and give you a sense of their research goals.  See also the Evaluating Sources guide for more guidance about how to evaluate a research article.
  • Does the publication date of the source fall within the guidelines specified in your assignments?  If no guidelines are given, keep in mind that the most current literature will be the most up-to-date.
  • You are a student of geology.  Is your professor expecting you to use literature from the geosciences only or can you venture into other disciplines as well such as chemistry, engineering, etc.? Look at the journal title that the article is published in.  This can give you an idea of the disciplinary focus of the article.  A journal title that represents the geosciences lets you know that the content of the article is addressed from within that discipline.  Articles from journals outside of the geosciences may not be appropriate.  

Suggestions for when you find helpful sources:

  • Keeping track of and organizing your sources you will make your research much more efficient.
  • Often you can email database results to yourself including a copy of the full pdf of the article.  Look for a link for emailing when looking at the full display of a database record.
  • Create a place to store and organize references to your sources.
    • Use a Word document, Google doc, or spreadsheet to store and organize your citations and notes.  Doing so in Google Drive will give you access to this information from wherever you have an internet connection.
  • Look also for a Permalink link that can generate a url for you to get back to the database record in the future (not available in all databases). 
  • Consider using a citation manager.  Citation managers are software tools that help researchers gather, organize, and share citations. They can also be used to generate citations in styles unique to particular disciplines.  The library features the Zotero citation manager on the Citation Manager page of the Citing Sources guide.
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