Chapter 5: page 30

Dive in—Databases, Search terms, and evaluating sources

Since much of the premise of this book is to draw from and build on your lived experience, let’s consider that the only reality you know is digital. Accordingly, we have adapted as a society (species?) to read, write, and research digitally, largely on our phones, in social media platforms, and through popular search engines.

We are (most likely) all familiar with google, and we’re also probably used to considering whether we believe a source or not, how legit it is, and whether it is, to use the parlance of our times, “fake news.”

Therefore, we can build on your prior knowledge and add to your schema of research databases, search terms, and evaluating the credibility of sources.

Image Source: Andrew Neel on, @andrewtneel

Search Terms

Before consulting various databases of sources, like google, you can prepare by brainstorming various search terms you’ll try out to find sources of information and knowledge. Your search terms should generally draw from your Inquiry Question, and include the key words and concepts that you have narrowed down with your instructor and peers on page 29.

“Popular” Databases

Google is a fine place to start, if you’re looking for popular sources. “Popular sources … are written by and intended for a general audience. Popular sources are not peer-reviewed, and they do not usually include a reference list. Examples of popular sources range from some books and magazines to websites and blogs,” according to Purdue OWL. In this chapter, we want you to be open to new sources of information and knowledge, such as YouTube and other social media, in addition to popular sources such as news outlets, websites, and blogs.

Insider’s Tips and Tricks for a focused search

  1. Brainstorm your various search terms
  2. To search within a certain website or source, write site: before your search terms (e.g., within the New York Times website); or use any other specific popular source
  3. Try adding this prefix to other search terms on your list, in addition to adding “AND,”  or “OR” between two or more search terms. For example, try site: racial profiling AND immigration AND trauma if you’re investigating the psychological effects on immigrants of being racially profiled.

Evaluating Credibility

In the case of all popular sources, as a critical, flexible reader you have to evaluate the credibility of the online, popular source you read—or in other words, you have to always consider whether or not you believe it, and why.

Watch these videos for another perspective and tips for evaluating credibility of textual sources
And websites:


1. Read like the Writer . . . Who is this person and how did they get their information?

2. Evaluate: What type of website did the information or knowledge come from? (.com, .org, .edu, etc.) Which do you think is most credible? Least? Why? Is this a social media post? From whom?

3. Investigate: What evidence do they provide for their claims? What are their sources?

4. Check up: What type of authority does the author have? How do they show this?

5. Dig Deeper: What do you think are the author’s biases? What are their “public motives”?

Supplemental Reading #14:

Why Historical Thinking is NOT about History by Sam Wineburg

Scholarly Databases

By contrast, scholarly sources “are written by highly-qualified researchers and have a thorough publication process, which usually involves peer-reviewing and an extensive list of references at the end of the text. Scholarly sources often have a specific audience in mind, most likely other experts in the particular field of study. Examples of scholarly sources include books and academic journals written by scholars and experts,” according to Purdue OWL. Scholarly sources are generally found in different, more specialized databases. Google scholar is one example, as well as a host of others that are available through your school’s library. The San Francisco State University (SFSU) library is rich with online databases, scholarly journals from all disciplines, as well as tutorial videos on how to use your Inquiry Question to create search terms, access various databases, and evaluate and organize the sources you find there.

Before you start your scholarly searches using the resources for SFSU (or your school) below, keep in mind that scholarly sources are generally credible. Scholarly sources have all gone through a process of “peer review,” where the information, knowledge, and arguments presented by the author have all been evaluated for credibility already by other experts in the field. Therefore, while you can certainly ask the same questions when you “read like a writer” in order to grow as a writer by being mindful of professional writers’ moves, if you access the source through a scholarly database and know the article is “peer reviewed,” you can assume other experts have established the author’s credibility before the source was published.

For more information on popular and scholarly sources, see Purdue OWL’s many guides, or the following video from SFSU’s Library.

Video Source:

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that your school’s library also has nondigital sources—you know, those book things that Dan and Jolie were more familiar with as students. You search for books in the exact same way you do digital sources, through your Library’s website. Depending on your research, these are often the best sources, and you can practice various reading and prereading strategies to ask prereading questions using KWL+, skim, scan, preview the table of contents, and find the most relevant parts of the book to read for your research purposes.

Bringing Back around to Critical Reading: Annotating Your Sources

Once you have found a source, evaluated whether it is trustworthy or not, and practiced some prereading strategies to “set the scene” for your reading process, you are ready to practice your critical and active reading strategies from Chapter 2.

This, of course, starts with continuing to develop annotation strategies that work for you, whether that is using to annotate websites and online documents, or printing and marking up pages of text—annotation helps you organize new knowledge and information that is added to your prior knowledge (or schema) as you read.

When you annotate certain ideas that are new, innovative, surprising, upsetting, or cause any other reaction in you as you consider your own public motives and those of your authors, you are bridging your new skills and habits that we introduce to you in this book.

Consider also using any of the other active reading strategies outlined in Chapter 2, such as Mind mapping, chunking, and close reading of difficult texts.

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