The Internet has made it easy to search for resources, but that means that even with a keyword list guiding your search, you can come away with too many reading materials; not all of which will be useful. It is so annoying to find an article, download it, print it, get your highlighter pens ready, then read half and realise ‘This is not useful for my topic at all!’ So, to save time, evaluate your resource before you start reading by asking yourself these questions about suitability and reliability.

Suitability

Is it relevant?

What is the reading material specifically about? For example, if you are researching the effects of SNS on Japanese teenagers communication skills, and you found an article about: 

  • 1. How SNS affects company brand design
  • 2. How SNS is used in Latin America
  • 3. How Facebook became popular

Which of these do you think might be useful for this research topic? 

  • Number 1 is probably about the business side of SNS rather than the socio-psychological effects. It might be better to forget this article. 
  • Number 2 is not about Japan. If you are planning to compare Japan to Latin America, then this might be useful. If not, leave it.
  • Number 3 is probably about the history of Facebook and how it developed. This could be useful to help you explain how and why Facebook – as an example SNS site – became popular. This could be a helpful article for giving background to your topic. 

Once you have read a good amount and understand the basic ideas of your topic, THEN start reading around your topic to see if there is anything that might give you new ideas. For example, an article about why less Japanese people do aisatsu (greetings) in the morning when they see their neighbours might give me new insights about communication barriers in society.

Is it up-to-date? 

Developments in research change what is known or thought about topics, so it is important to choose new reading materials to keep up-to-date. If you select a book or article that was written 30 years ago, it is likely that since it was published, newer ideas and theories exist. So, try to read materials that have been published within the past five to ten years. 

  • Reading news articles can be a good starting place as they introduce new research.
  • Sometimes, it is necessary to read older work – it might be a classic and important text for your topic, for example, Edward Hall on intercultural communication. You might also want to read about the historical developments of your topic to see what has changed and why. 

Reliability

We often hear the phrase ‘fake news’. This is perhaps one negative side-effect of the Internet and the increased ease of access to a variety of information – we don’t always know who the author is or their reason for writing.

Is it dependable?

Use your common sense to answer these questions:

  • Does the author use enough evidence to support their opinions? 
  • Does this evidence look trustworthy? 
  • Does the author use citations and provide references for the evidence they used? 

If you are looking at online materials, including videos, try to evaluate whether the site is trustworthy. Usually, useful articles can be found on URLs with:

 ‘.ac’ 

‘.edu’

‘.gov’

‘.org’

Blogs and videos can often be excellent sources for information, but again, evaluate whether you think they are trustworthy. 

  • Is it a famous/ well-known/ trusted site that other people use?
  • Who is the author/ speaker? Check their bio online before you read or watch.
  • Is the site trying to sell something, like a product or service? These days, it is common for companies to have a blog or vlog as part of their marketing strategy. If they are giving you information on their blog, are they also trying to sell something to you?

If you are not sure about whether the resource you found is suitable or reliable, ask your tutor or your librarian. Both are here to help!

(Adapted from Lambert, M. (2012). A Beginner’s guide to doing your education research project. Sage.)