Instructions for Librarians

Break students into small groups of 3-5 and give them the handout with instructions. Set the scene by saying, “You did some preliminary research for your paper in the library, and you emailed a bunch of articles from the database to your Gmail account.  You sit down at your computer with every intention of writing your first draft tonight, but you find that some of the articles are not exactly what you thought they would be when you just glanced at them.  Discuss with your groupmates about what you can/could/should do in each of the following situations.”

After they have a few minutes to discuss the hypothetical scenarios with each other, ask different groups for their consensus answers.  Use their answers as a way to discuss ethical, pragmatic, and/or scholarly approaches to this aspect of information literacy, i.e. the ability to ethically use the information they have found.


Student Handout

What to Do with What You Find 

In your research you will find many different kinds of articles, some of which are more useful than others.  In each of the following situations, what should you do?

 

  1. What do you do when the article contains your keywords, but is not about your subject?

You are looking for articles about shell companies but end up with an article about Shell Oil Company or about a company that sells sea shells (perhaps by the sea shore?).

 

  1. What do you do when the article contains your keywords but is focused on a different aspect of your subject? 

You want to write about social programs that help solve the problems of juvenile delinquency, but you find an article about how one particular neighborhood is protesting the opening of a new detox center for juvenile offenders.

 

  1. What do you do when the article is about the same aspect of your subject, but from the opposite point of view?

You want to prove that government-funded after-school programs don’t decrease gang violence, but the article contends that such programs actually do decrease gang violence.

 

  1. What do you do when you can’t refute the articles you have found that contradict your original claim?

Try as you might, you can’t find anything that credibly rebuts what you have found.

 

  1. What do you do when the article is about your subject and corroborates your thesis?

You have found an article that reinforces your point of view and will work PERFECTLY to prove your point!

 


What to Do with What You Find  Answer Key

 

You pull up an article that contains all of your search terms, so you’re done, right?  Not exactly.  Finding sources is only the first step.  Once you get into your research, you will likely find several different kinds of sources, some more useful than others.  Here is what to do…

When the article contains your keywords, but is not about your subject:

You are looking for articles about shell companies but end up with an article about Shell Oil Company  or about a company that sells sea shells (by the sea shore).

Then:

You have to look for other articles because a quote from such an article will not help you prove or defend your thesis.  You may have to reevaluate your search terms and determine if they should be more specific of more general.

When the article contains your keywords but is focused on a different aspect of your subject. 

You want to write about social programs that help solve the problems of juvenile delinquency, but you find an article about how one particular neighborhood is protesting the opening of a new detox center for juvenile offenders.

Then:

Store the information away in the back of your mind because, although it does not help you prove your point, you might be able to use it to explain the social context of your subject.

When the article is about the same aspect of your subject, but from the opposite point of view. 

You want to prove that government-funded after-school programs don’t decrease gang violence, but the article contends that such programs actually do decrease gang violence.

Then:

Save the article as a source for a counterargument to include in your paper, then read more articles and hope that they will help you prove your point. Use the new articles to refute the claims of the first article.

How do you refute an article?

Study more articles and find out if the first article is the consensus view of experts or a lone voice crying out into the universe.  Weigh the evidence presented by the consensus vs. the evidence presented by the author in question, keeping in mind that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Also consider the following:

Is there bias?

Do some research to see if the author or source has a consistent political bias. If so, those allegiances may call into question the accuracy of the claims therein.

Is it timely?

Science, research, and technology update our understanding of the world daily.  Claims that represented the best understanding in the year 2000 may no longer represent the best understanding.  Look for more current articles to see if anything has changed.

 Does it Use Weasel Words?

Weasel words are used by some commentators to disguise personal opinions as facts.  These phrases are not always weasel words, but when you see them, you should pay attention to the claims being made to see if they actually ring true.  Common weasel words are:

Some people say…

Research has shown…

It is believed that…

It has been said/suggested…
Many people believe…

It is often argued that…

Critics/experts agree that…

And there are many others.  What each of these phrases has in common is that it makes a claim without providing any indication of who said it, when she said it, or why she said it.  In other words, when you see these words be sure to start asking questions.  Further research might show that the article is not being entirely honest.

 But Then:

What if you can’t refute the articles you have found that contradict your original claim?

Then:

You might have to reconsider your claim.  Perhaps you are wrong and should try to prove the opposite of what you first thought.  Or, perhaps your thesis is only conditionally right. Instead of saying, “It is best to approach such and such problem in such and such solution,” you might instead qualify your thesis statement.  Examples of qualifying a statement are:

By including conditions or exceptions.

I am opposed to ________________ except when _______________.

Or

When the U3 unemployment rate is under 4.5%, the Federal Reserve should _____________, but in times of economic distress, it should____________________.

 Note! You can avoid these problems by doing your research BEFORE you come up with a thesis statement. Approaching your topic with an unbiased research question allows you to inform your thesis with the knowledge of experts, instead of trying to make their expertise back up your preconceived opinion!

When:

The article is about your subject, corroborates your thesis, and is timely and free of bias.

            First:

You still have to evaluate it for credibility, timeliness, and bias. If the article is outdated, comes from an unreliable source, or is biased, you may have to leave it out of your paper or include it with caveats and qualifiers.  HOWEVER, if the article passes inspection…

Then:

Take notes for later.  Write down all of the information you will need for your works cited page.  Write down any information you will want to quote, paraphrase or summarize, being careful to note the page number or paragraph number of the where you got the information.  This information can be mapped out in your outline and used in your paper.  Always follow the documentation style your instructor wants you to use.

 

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