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ANTH 3341 Anthropology Research Methods

Types of Sources

Popular: Sources published in newspapers and magazines intended for general audience. 

Scholarly: Well researched sources that have been written for scholars, students, and experts in the discipline area.

Peer Reviewed: Articles that have been evaluated by other professionals in the field to check for accuracy and adherence to disciplinary standards.

Know the Difference

Article: Articles are the individual "stories" published in a newspaper, magazine, or journal. For example, the story about the Rangers published in Sports Illustrated is an article.

Journal: Journals contain several articles published about a specific subject area and are typically scholarly. For example, the article about stem cells was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Database: Databases index millions of articles published in thousands of newspapers, magazines, and journals. There are databases that index sources from many different discipline areas, while others are subject specific. For example, the New York Times can be accessed by searching the database Nexis Uni.

So I Can't Use Popular Materials at All?

It depends.  You will always use PRIMARILY peer-reviewed scholarly sources for the bulk of your research.  However, popular media is a manifestation of cultural practice, and can be an opportunity for your to add your own observations about a topic. When popular materials are used in research, they are presented as evidence of the attitudes, practices, or norms being investigated.  In other words, popular media can be used as examples that you have found "in the wild" to support claims made in scholarly sources. If you are unsure whether using popular sources is appropriate for your project, speak with your instructor.

Peer Review

Peer Review is a critical part of evaluating information. It is a process that journals use to ensure the articles they publish represent the best scholarship currently available, and articles from peer reviewed journals are often grounded in empirical research. When an article is submitted to a peer reviewed journal, the editors send it out to other scholars in the same field (the author's peers) to get their assessment of the quality of the scholarship, its relevance to the field, its appropriateness for the journal, etc. Sometimes, you'll see this referred to as "refereed." 

Publications that don't use peer review (Time, Cosmo, Salon) rely on an editor to determine the value of an article. Depending on the publication, they may also utilize a fact checker who attempts to verify certain claims in the work.  These individuals may or may not be subject experts. The goal of popular publications is mainly to broadly educate or entertain, not to support scholarly research. This does not automatically mean that the information is made up or inaccurate. It means that this information has a different kind of authority and must be put into a different context if used for scholarly research. In some fields, the use of popular materials is never appropriate. In other fields, it is common to use popular materials as the object of study, documentation of historical events, examples of common practice, etc.

Most library databases will have a search feature that allows you to limit your results to peer reviewed or scholarly sources.

SIFT Method- Reading critically

The SIFT method was developed by Mike Caufield to help students think critically about resources. It is not strictly a checklist, nor is the main goal to eliminate "bad" resources. The goal is to evaluate resources in context to determine their usefulness to any particular project or to your own personal bank of knowledge.

S - Stop and ask yourself what do I know about this resource?  Who is the author?  What is the intent behind this resource?  Does it matter if this resource is biased?  Am I have a reaction to this resource that might interfere with my own objectivity?  What was my original purpose in looking this up?

I - Investigate the answers to the above questions. Go into enough detail that you can be sure to put that resource in the appropriate context.  This rationalization of whether or not to use a resource, and how to use it, will form the backbone of your annotated bibliography.

F - Find better (or other) coverage that will support, negate, or complement this resource. You may discover a much more complete resource elsewhere. You may find scholarly resources that support the arguments of popular resources. Depending on your own expertise in a subject, you may need to find something to help you better understand the claims being made.

T - Trace claims, quotes, data, and other components back to their original sources when possible. It is especially important to trace quotes back to their original source and determine whether the meaning stays the same when read in the original context.  Be especially cautious of cases where the original work is in another language. Translation adds another layer of complexity to resource evaluation.