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Criminology & Criminal Justice

What type of source shoud I use?

In basic terms, scholarly sources are written by scholars for scholars and go through a scholarly publication process. This scholarly publication process usually includes some form of peer-review, which means it is vetted by experts in the field and therefore considered more credible than information that hasn't gone through this process.

There are cases where popular sources (magazines, newspapers, films, etc.) or other non-scholarly sources may be valuable as supporting materials for research. For example, a memoir by someone who was formerly incarcerated may be useful as an example of incarceration issues discussed in scholarly literature. Newspaper articles document how crimes are reported in the media. Photographs depict the events of a criminal justice movement as it was happening. Movies and television shows depicting fictional police officers may affect how society views real police officers. And so on.

It is important to develop information literacy skills to be able to determine under what conditions different resources may be used and in what way the information contained in those resources is valuable. You will also need to read your assignments careful and ask your instructor if it is not clear what kinds of sources you should be looking for.

General Databases

Legal Databases

Using Boolean Operators

Using Boolean Operators when searching will give you better, and more accurate, results in most databases and catalogs. If you only search Google or Google Scholar, you won’t get very far.  Google uses natural language, which is great when you want to find everyday things on the open web or get broad results, but natural language doesn’t work in most databases.  

  1. An asterisk (*) means look for anything that starts or ends with those letters- child* will look for child, children, childhood, etc.
  2. AND means look for both of these terms- child* AND game* 
  3. OR means look for either of these terms- child* OR juvenile
  4. NOT excludes words or phrases- game* NOT sport*
  5. Using Quotations or brackets will search for a phrase as a whole- "children's games" 
  6. Asterisk (*) all by itself means "show me everything"- set your filters and put * in the search box to see everything that meets those criteria.
  7. Use () to group terms- (child* OR juvenile) AND (game* NOT sport*)

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. In annotated bibliographies, this rationalization of whether or not to use a resource, and how to use it, will form the backbone of the annotation.

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 and data 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.