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*General Education Courses*

Resources to help with foundation classes like English composition, math, algebra, and introduction to research.


Locating and Evaluating Information Guide

This guide will provide you with additional resources to help you successfully navigate and complete this course. You will notice that there are boxes below that correspond to modules in the course:

Topic / Information Ethics / Evaluate Resources / Search / Books / Scholarly Journals / Magazines / Newspapers

Notice tabs at the top of each box for you to click through. Take some time to browse this guide by clicking on various tabs, or go right to the section that will help you with where you are in the course. 

Selecting a Manageable Topic

Before beginning a research project, read the assignment thoroughly and try to answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this assignment?  Is it to compare and contrast? Prove a position? Provide information?
  • Who is the audience?  Your instructor?  Fellow classmates?  other?
  • Are there limits on the topic selected?
  • Does the assignment ask for general or in-depth treatment of the topic?
  • Is the topic so narrow that it will be challenging to find information, or so broad that there is too much information to sort through?

Consider using brainstorming techniques to identify a topic.

  • Set a timer for 3-5 minutes and "free write" by writing down ideas that pop into your head.  Review and identify a topic for you assignment.
  • Create a mind map. Study result to see if a workable topic emerges.
  • Use mind mapping tools in our library databases, Credo and Professional Collection.
  • Think out loud by discussing potential topics out loud with a colleague or family member.
  • Create a bulleted list by starting with a general topic and listing related ideas.
  • Cube it!  Describe your topic from six different perspectives or approaches:
    • Describe it
    • Compare it
    • Associate it
    • Analyze it
    • Apply it
    • Argue for or against it
  • Ask yourself the six journalistic questions about your topic:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Search reference books including encyclopedias, handbooks, and dictionaries to find basic information on your topic.  In some cases, reading an overview article on a broad topic can aid in narrowing a topic for a research assignment.

Consult these databases to find background information:

Often it is a good idea to do a general search for articles on your topic to see if there is reliable, credible, and current information on your chosen topic.  In other words, test your topic by performing a general search in the Discovery All-in-One Search tool.

View the video below to learn how to search this "all in one" resource:

The purpose of a thesis statement is to inform the reader of what exactly will be covered in the paper or written assignment.  In fact, a well written thesis statement can provide the structure of the paper by clearly stating your position on a topic and the points that you will make throughout the course of the paper to prove your position. Consulting your working outline may be helpful in developing your thesis statement.  Also, don't be surprised if your thesis statement changes as you research and learn more about your topic!

A well-written thesis statement:

  • is a complete sentence and appears in the introduction of your paper
  • makes a point about a topic expressed in the "second person" (Never I think, I feel, I believe, In my opinion, etc.)
  • is clear and specific
  • is arguable
  • answers the questions, why?, how?, so what?

A thesis statement is never:

  • an announcement
  • a question
  • a statement of fact
  • too vague, narrow, or broad to be argued
  • unfocused

Watch the video below to learn more about writing good thesis statements.

Information Ethics

Using information ethically includes crediting creators of source material used in a research paper or academic assignment.  View the video below for tips on how to avoid inadvertent plagiarism.

Copyright Law and Definition

Copyright is a form of protection provided by Title 17 of the  U.S. Code and other Congressional Copyright Acts and Amendments to authors of intellectual property. The owner of copyright-protected material has the exclusive right to do and authorize the following:

•To reproduce the work
•To prepare derivative works based upon the work
•To distribute copies of the work to the public by sale or transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
•To prohibit other persons from using the work without permission
•To perform the work publicly

Section 106 of the copyright law lists the exclusive rights of copyright owners. The remaining sections of Chapter 1 describe a number of exceptions and limitations on those rights. Exceptions most common in educational settings are Section 107: Fair Use; Section 108: Reproduction by Libraries and Archives; Section 109: Transfer (Right of First Sale).

What is protected by Copyright?

Published and unpublished work, out-of-print materials, and is automatically assigned the moment a work is “created and fixed in a tangible form”.

Copyright law protects original:
  • Literary works
  • Musical works, including lyrics
  • Dramatic works, including accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictoral, sculptural, and graphic works
  • Motion pictures and audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Software
  • Architectural works

What is not protected by Copyright?


The following are NOT protected by current copyright law:

  • Facts
  • Ideas
  • Procedures
  • Processes
  • Systems
  • Concepts
  • Principles
  • Discoveries

Resources in the public domain -- which may include many government resources -- are not copyright protected.  See the Copyright Protection and Public Domain tab on this page for more information.

Doctrine of Fair Use

The doctrine of fair use allows the reproduction of a copyrighted work if used for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research” (U.S. Copyright Office, 2012, para. 2).  Determining whether the use of copyrighted material is acceptable under the doctrine of Fair Use is not always clear. Obtaining permission from the owner of the copyrighted material is always the best course of action.   However, the interpretation of the doctrine of fair use should be guided by the following factors:

Factor 1 - Purpose and Character of Use
Factor 2 - Nature of the Copyrighted Work
Factor 3 - Amount and Substantiality of the Portion Used in Relation to the Copyrighted Work as a Whole
Factor 4 - Effect of the Use Upon the Potential Market for or Value of the Copyrighted Work

Court Opinions Interpreting Fair Use

Click on the link below to view court opinions interpreting the fair use of copyright protected resources:

Evaluating Resources


It is very important to be aware that not all sources of information are credible. Especially when searching the internet, you should maintain constant vigilance toward ensuring the validity of any sources you use for your assignments. 

A helpful tool for evaluating your search results is the SCRAAP Test. This has you look at the following components of the resource:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Currency
  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • Accuracy
  • Purpose

The following tabs will give more information on each of these components.


The awareness that personal biases may influence how information is consumed and interpreted.

  •  Do I have personal/confirmation biases about the topic?
  •  Are other points of view taken into consideration?
  •  Am I objective when evaluating information?
  •  Am I aware of an emotional response to the information?


The timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Is the information current or out-of-date for your topic?
  • Are the links functional?


The 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 information at an appropriate reading level (i.e., not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at various sources before determining which one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable using this source for a research paper?


The source of the information

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • Are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's credentials or organizational affiliations given?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or e-mail address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source?
    • Examples: .com (commercial), .edu (educational), .gov (U.S. government), .org (nonprofit organization), or .net (network)


The reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the content

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Does evidence support the information?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any information from another source or personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem biased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar, or other typographical errors?


The reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? To inform? Teach? Sell? Entertain? Persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact? Opinion? Propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional, or personal biases?

Creating a Search String

The first thing to do when starting research in a database is to brainstorm some search terms to use. 

Search terms are brief, concise words or phrases that represent the core idea(s) of your topic. 

For example, instead of searching with a sentence like this:

How are children affected when they have a parent in prison?

It will be more effective to search with terms like this:

incarceration AND families AND effects

On the following tabs, you will see how to go through the process to come up with your own search terms. 

One of the easiest ways to come up with search terms is to identify the core concepts of your topic. 

Let's continue with the sample topic from the previous tab: how children are affected when they have a parent in prison?

You can start breaking that topic up into separate ideas. For example:


Now that you're thinking about those topics, on the next tab we'll see how to come up with additional terms that you can use in your searches.

Now that you have broken up your topic into concepts, let's take a look at those again:


When you are searching for resources, it's important to remember that different authors will use different terms, so you want to come up with synonyms or related terms that you can use in your search. For example:

In addition to trying children and parents, try the term families.

In addition to prison, try incarceration

In addition to effects, try consequences.

Trying out all kinds of different terms that apply to your topic will help you to find the most results. 

Boolean Operators connect keywords or concepts logically to retrieve relevant articles, books, and other resources.  There are three Boolean Operators:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

Using AND 

  • Narrows search results
  • Connects two or more keywords/concepts
  • All keywords/concepts connected with "and" must be in an article or resource to appear in the search results list

Venn diagram of the AND connector.

Example: The result list will include resources that include both keywords -- "distracted driving" and "texting" -- in the same article or resource, represented in the shaded area where the circles intersect (area shaded in purple).

Using OR

  • Broadens search results ("OR means more!")
  • Connects two or more synonyms or related keywords/concepts
  • Resources appearing in the results list will include any of the terms connected with the OR connector

Venn diagram of the OR connector

Example:  The result list will include resources that include the keyword "texting" OR the keyword "cell phone" (entire area shaded in blue); either is acceptable.

Using NOT

  • Excludes keywords or concepts from the search
  • Narrows results by removing resources that contain the keyword or term connect with the NOT connector
  • Use sparingly

Venn diagram of the NOT connector

Example: The result list will include all resources that include the term "car" (green area) but will exclude any resource that includes the term "motorcycle" (purple area) even though the term car may be present in the resource.

So how does this apply to your search? For the most part, you will want to use AND to connect relevant search terms. For example:

families AND incarceration AND effects

But you can also use OR if you want to try more than one related term in the same search. For example:

families AND incarceration OR prison  AND effects

Depending on your search terms, you may also want to search using exact phrases or truncation. 

To search for an exact phrase, you can put quotations around a group of words. For example, a search for "incarcerated parent" will locate only those resources which have those words together as a phrase. 

Truncation is a technique used in searching where you can search using part of a word to find all possible iterations of it. For example, instead of doing separate searches with prison and prisoners, truncating the term to prison* will search for all possible endings of that word. 

The databases will often give you other search options to consider. These are the most common:

Date Range
You will often see an option to limit your results to a certain date range. This can be really helpful for filtering out resources that are out of date. 

For most topics, ten years is the oldest you will want to go, but you may want to use a smaller range if you are researching anything related to technology. Think of the cell phone or computer you had ten years ago, and you'll easily see why that is important. Technology changes very quickly! 

Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals
Many databases will give an option to limit to scholarly, peer reviewed journals. If that is something your assignment requires, check the box for this option to make sure all of your results are scholarly. 

For more information on the terms "scholarly" and "peer reviewed," check out our Answer here

Watch these short video demonstrations of simple database searches to better understand how to search and locate useful resources.



eBooks are electronic versions of printed books and can be accessed online. You can access eBooks using the links below. For additional information and help with eBooks, use the tab at the top of the box

Scholarly Journals


"Scholarly" typically means that the article was written to report actual research (such as a study conducted on a group of individuals) to others who are experts in the same field.  Experts write scholarly articles for other experts.  Because of the purpose of the article and the intended audience, scholarly articles tend to report statistics and observations.  They tend to be written in a more academic language than a person might read in a popular magazine. They also tend to be very specific or focused in terms of topic. Do not expect to find broad overviews in scholarly articles.

If you think you're reading a scholarly article but are unsure, check whether it includes the following types of sections typical for scholarly articles.

  • author's credentials
  • literature review
  • research methodology
  • observations
  • findings or results (including statistics)
  • discussion of the findings
  • conclusions or recommendations

You can access scholarly journals by selecting and searching library databases in the A-Z Database list. For additional information and help click the tab, Help with Scholarly Journals.



A magazine is a publication that is issued periodically and typically specializes in a specific subject or area. You can access magazines using the links below. For additional information and help with magazines, use the tab at the top of the box



A newspaper is a regularly printed publication usually containing news articles, opinions, and advertisements. You can access newspapers using the links below. For additional information and help with newspapers, use the tab at the top of the box