Searching for and critically evaluating information

Supporting materials

  • 1 hour 30 minute interactive presentation
  • Group: Up to 50 students
  • Room: lecture/ classroom
  • Discipline: Any, can be tailored to assignment
  • Level: Any
  • Materials: Slides, flip chart paper and pens

Learning outcomes

  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different search tools
  • Identify an appropriate tool to use for finding information for your specific purpose
  • Identify and use key databases in your discipline
  • Identify and use relevant specialist information common in your discipline
  • Develop strategies for assessing the appropriateness of sources to use in your assignments
  • Discriminate between good-quality academic sources and other sources
  • Use information sources appropriately to support your own arguments

Suggested online resources

Session content

Introduction (slides 1–2)

The facilitator should explain that this workshop will be a place to look at where to find quality evidence and how to decide whether or not to include this within an assignment.

The workshop will include a sequence of short activities covering the following:

  • Planning your search
  • Where to look for information
  • Critically evaluating your material
  • Working well in groups

Highlight the support available in Blackboard (slide 3)

Activity 1: Consider your search behaviour (slide 4)

The aim of this activity is to facilitate discussion around the participants current search behaviour.

Working in groups of 2–3 they should consider the following questions, then enter responses into Mentimeter

  • What are your strengths when it comes to searching, what do you do well?
  • What do you find challenging when you are searching?

Facilitator should then run through the Mentimeter responses and introduce the idea of using a basic search strategy to improve search approach.

Search stratergy
Search strategy

Search strategies (slide 5)

Introduce each of the three steps of a search strategy — the what, where and how.

  • What: emphasise the importance of examining your question to identify key concepts, instruction words and limiters, what are you being asked to do?
  • Where: articulate that this will in turn inform where they will look for the information, e.g. relevant databases, journal articles etc
  • How: consider alternative terms, limits and combining search terms

Recommend using a variety of different sources to provide a body of information which can be evaluated.

Search strategy: What am I looking for? (slides 6–10)

Facilitator shows an example assignment and explains the importance of fully understanding your assignment title and defining what it is.

The facilitator gives the following aspects of the search that will need to be considered:

  • understanding all of the terms in your question
  • knowing what depth of information you need
  • consider the limits of your search, e.g., it might cover a particular time period
  • alternative synonyms and spellings

Introduce the idea of alternative search terms and alternative spellings.

Activity 2: Map your keywords (slide 11)

Using a slide showing an assignment question ask participants to work in groups of 3 or 4 to identify what keywords and phrases would enable them to find relevant evidence for an example assignment title. Then they should note these on flip chart paper using marker pens.

Activity 3: Planning your search — traffic light approach (slides 12–13)

The groups are next asked to use the traffic light approach to highlight using pens the terms that they don’t want (red), terms they might want (yellow) and terms that they definitely want (green).

Traffic light approach
Traffic light approach

TIP — If you don’t have red, yellow or green pens then ask them to cross out for red, write a question mark for yellow and a tick for green.

This activity is designed to get students refining their search terms so that they are only using the specific ones they need to quickly find relevant information.

Facilitator should emphasise the fact the searching is an iterative process and you may have to come back to this to add search terms back in, or take more out as you start to search.

Search strategy

Search strategy: Where will you look for information? (slide 14)

Next the facilitator will introduce the next stage of the search strategy, where will the participants look for information?

Activity 4: Where do you currently look for information? Mentimeter quiz (slide 15)

Individually ask the participants to answer the question — where do they currently look for information?

Facilitator to look at the results on the screen and feedback to the audience.

Where will I look for it? (slides 16–22)

Facilitator should outline the various places that students may want to use to find information: Library search, subject databases and Google Scholar

  • Provide the participants a brief demo of Library Search, mentioning the filters they can use to narrow their search
  • Discuss the pros and cons of using Google Scholar and Library Search
  • Show the participants where they can find their subject databases within the appropriate subject guide

Then provide a quick demo of searching with a subject database.

How will I look for it? (slides 23–28)

Facilitator should go over some more advanced search techniques.

  • Using AND/OR and truncation and quotation marks
  • Discuss the different types of subject specific information you might want to look e.g. company information
  • Draw the participants attention to the different kinds of information e.g primary and secondary sources

Facilitator to highlight where specialist databases can be found on the Business and Management subject guide.

Evaluating sources of information (slides 29–36)

Use the example of newspaper article (which erroneously reported that there were only 100 cod left in the North Sea) to highlight why it is important to go to the original source of evidence and critically evaluate the information you use in assignments.

The Telegraph ran the story about looking at data from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). It then asked researchers from the British government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) for help with the numbers. According to Cefas, however, the journalists “misunderstood the data”. The Telegraph chose to class an adult cod as aged over 13. But that’s not merely an adult cod. It’s an ancient cod. Equivalent to being over 100 years old.

Facilitator to highlight:

  • The importance of finding the original source of the data and make your own interpretation
  • When evaluating a source of information consider why it has been put together and what affect that has on how the information is presented
The five W’s

The five W’s (Slide 37)

Facilitator to explain the basic technique for evaluating sources “what, why, where, who, when, how”.

Highlight that that evaluating sources is about asking questions — what do you know about the source, how does it relate to other things you have read, and how does it link to your own ideas? (slide

Our questions often fall under three main categories:

Reliability: how trustworthy is the source?

Objectivity: how neutral is the source?

Relevance: how applicable is the source?

Activity 5: Evaluating your sources (slide 38)

Participants to work individually to rate sources by objectivity and reliability. Facilitator to discuss the results and recap on the five W’s.

Activity 6: Why is group work important? (slides 39–43)

In groups of 2–3 students are to discuss the importance and benefits of group work — everyone to input this into Mentimeter.

Facilitator to summarise the benefits from Mentimeter and then discuss key benefits and skills. Then talk through some useful tools for group work

Did you find this session useful (slide 44)

Direct to further support available, MLE and Drop ins (slide 45–47)

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