ResearchScapes

Discussions on the art and craft of research

Tag: research skills

3rd Annual Library Prize Recipient – Dominic Lentini

For the last three years, Shain Library has been awarding a Library Research Prize. Each student applicant must submit detailed information on their research process, and get faculty support for the submission. This is the essay/application for this year’s winner, Dominic Lentini. Dominic is a senior, and a double-major in International Relations and French. His paper was entitled: Media Framing, Violent Protest, and Race: A Comparative Analysis of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ coverage of the Ferguson Protests.

Dominic Lentini ’18
Research Statement
Spring 2018

Describe how you came to choose your topic, specifically noting any pre-research that you did. What sources did you use in this pre-research? To what extent did you consult with librarians, faculty, or others? How did this pre-research lead you to your topic?

The process through which I arrived at my final topic was very time consuming. The first proposal I wrote was about protest repression, media coverage, and the police. For this, I first consulted the textbooks as well as other assigned readings for our class and I critically examined their bibliographies to help guide me in the direction of appropriate and related literature. This search involved exploring both theoretical literature to establish a framework for my analysis, as well as information on potential case studies and primary sources that could be used to take the existing research in a new direction. Using those sources as a springboard, I compiled a large list of peer reviewed articles and books on protest policing, policy, and organization, as well as on media coverage of protests.

However, as I began to read through those texts, consult with my professor, and meet with research librarians, I realized that what I had proposed could be three separate papers. While my research clearly started with a very large scope and a lot of energy was used to research topics that I did not write about, over roughly a month and a half of reading and evaluating sources, I eventually guided and narrowed my initial interests into a topic that was appropriate for the course: Media Framing, Violent Protest, and Race: A Comparative Analysis of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ coverage of the Ferguson Protests.

Describe your process of finding information for your project. Note specifically the tools you used to undertake your research, as well as the specific search strategies you used within these tools. (Note: “Ebsco,” being an umbrella vendor, is not a specific enough response when identifying tools; listing the “library database” is also an unacceptably vague answer.

Specific tools include JSTOR, America:History & Life, Web of Science, etc., along with OneSearch, the new library system.)

As I described in question one, the first step in my process was exploring the sources used in the bibliographies of sources provided for my course. Following that, however, I used the library’s OneSearch, JSTOR, Political Science Complete, Google Scholar, and Lexis Nexis as the main tools for finding new articles and books. Within all of the databases I would do advanced searches with a variety of different search terms such as “framing,” “media framing,” “framing violence,” “framing race,” “framing protest” and many combinations within those terms. I would then read the abstracts to gauge potential relevance, and save every potential article to RefWorks so that I could later examine their
methodology, data, and conclusions. For anything I could not access through those databases, I used both the CTW network, WorldCat, and Inter Library Loan to access them. Additionally, within JSTOR I explored the utility of their text analyzer, which is in its beta mode.

For collecting my primary source newspaper articles, I initially used ProQuest Newspapers. I even contacted them, with the help of Andrew Lopez, to learn about how they code and sort their articles. For my data collection process, I used ProQuest Newspapers to search all articles published in certain date ranges based on set search terms in order to create frequency tables of article publication, and then to do content analysis of a selection of those articles. I realized, however, that some articles were coded inconsistently, and consequently double counted, which threw off all of the article counts. Thus, I did not end up using that particular database. Instead, I used the website search function for both The New York Times’ and the Wall Street Journal’s sites. Using the search functions within each newspaper required more manual work, and I even called the WSJ to get information about how their search feature functioned, but it ultimately provided me with the data I needed.

Describe your process of evaluating the resources you found. How did you make decisions about which resources you would use, and which you wouldn’t? What kinds of questions did you ask yourself about resources in order to determine whether they were worthy of inclusion?

I went through several different steps to evaluate my sources. Firstly, for my literature review, I only considered peer reviewed articles and books. Within sources that met that requirement, I would examine their research methodology as well as their bibliography in order to gauge the soundness and scope of their argument and conclusions. This process, however, still left me with more articles than I could use. Consequently, I made my final selection with the intention of laying a base to the framing literature, then additions and variations to that literature, and finally critiques to it. The ultimate goal was to paint a well-rounded picture of the literature.

The process for selecting background pieces for my case study was more challenging. For one, due to the slow process of academic publication, there does not exist a huge body of peer reviewed literature on the Ferguson protests. Consequently, most of the information on what transpired had to be gathered from newspaper and magazine sources. This, however, left me in a paradoxical situation because I was being pushed to use newspapers as the background for a paper in which I was arguing that newspapers paint a “framed” version of what transpired during the Ferguson protests. To try and mitigate this issue, I used a wide range of newspapers and magazines, as well as any quality academic literature I could find, in order to cross reference and evaluate the validity of my sources. While this did not totally eliminate the issue, it definitely reduced its severity.

Authority: Who Needs It?

(Note: This is the first in a series of planned blog posts exploring the key concepts of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ [ACRL] Framework for Information Literacy.)

In 2016 ACRL — the national organization for academic librarians — finalized its Framework for Information Literacy, a document that had been a number of years in the making. Simply put, the Framework seeks to define and describe six key points, called threshold concepts, that students seeking to become information literate need to understand.

I thought it might be useful in our blog to explore, point by point, the six key concepts of the framework; part of why I thought so is that the first point, “authority is constructed and contextual,” seems to be such an urgent topic to discuss, given the social and political moment in which we find ourselves.

As readers of this blog may recall, last fall I discussed one of the hot buttons generated by the divisive 2016 presidential election: the issue of media literacy or, if you will, fake news. Put succinctly, the fake news crisis can be thought of as a crisis of authority. In what news, media or other information sources can we trust? If people don’t take the time to discern which sources are trustworthy (in other words, authoritative), what can or will they be led to believe, and what does that do to the state of education, research and democracy itself?

The framework — advancing a view of authority that is constructed and contextual — states: “Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.” It goes on to recognize the need for acknowledging biases “that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation or cultural orientation.” The traditionally dominant voices of authority, in other words, need to be tempered or even overruled by the inclusion of voices that have been long shut out of the conversation. This, to me, is necessary, and frankly unassailable. Authority must be queried and questioned; researchers and students need to pay attention to the social processes by which authority is constructed, and be ready to challenge those processes.

But at the same time, to what extent does the assigning of context to authority mean that facts themselves can be overruled by asserting an alternative authority that claims to have, as has been famously done recently, “alternative facts”? Are facts — which, after all, are important products of authority — themselves constructed and contextual?

One may be tempted to say no — that a fact is a fact, and we’re not entitled to our own facts in the way we are entitled to opinions. While this isn’t exactly wrong, it’s also true that some facts, such as scientific findings, can be revised as new information comes to light. It’s also true that what counts as a fact can vary from discipline to discipline. So do these qualifications leave us in a world without facts — and, some might say, without moorings? Are all researchers thus in a “post-truth” quandary, between a proverbial rock and hard place?

The way through, I think, is to recognize that there simply isn’t anything like a one-size-fits-all edict that provides all the answers to the issue. Instead, researchers need to adopt a set of practices that help to evaluate materials and claims, and to think of this as a process, rather than as a quick judgment or a foregone conclusion. I offer a few suggestions here; some of these are partially based on some of the recommendations that ACRL provides in its “Dispositions” section of the framework.

First, query everything, constantly asking questions about the information’s provenance, its reason for being, its date of creation and its own sources of information. Remember that facts can sometimes be disproved, and that the questioning of established truth is part of a healthy research community (and, by extension, democracy).

Second, place different sources into relation to one another. This is what journalists do when they determine what should go into a story: Is there a second, third or fourth source that corroborates what this first source is arguing? To what does the preponderance of evidence lead? If multiple sources are pointing in the direction of a fact, it’s more likely to be true; but even then, since such things can themselves be the product of groupthink or a particular way of constructing authority, they often need to be qualified or tempered in their description.

The overarching recommendation of the ACRL framework is, as it states, to “develop and maintain an open mind” when thinking about authority: to recognize that authority is constructed socially, and can be made and unmade; that it may be constructed or interpreted differently in various contexts; and that established authority may be related to power.

These points won’t necessarily solve the conundrum about how to know when something is truly, incontrovertibly, absolutely a fact — particularly in an age when information sources claiming to be authoritative are thrown at us in ever greater volume, and at ever greater speed. But they may serve as good points to keep in mind when one is trying to decide how to think about a given claim as authoritative or not.

— Fred Folmer

 

 

Deadline for Library Research Prize: February 12

As a follow-up to a previous item announcing the second annual Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research, here’s a quick reminder that applications for the prize ($500 cash!) are due on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 11:59 p.m.

All currently enrolled Connecticut College undergraduates are eligible. Students, please submit an application! Faculty, please encourage students to submit an application!

You can find all the pertinent information concerning rules for entry, project eligibility and more at the Library Research Prize’s webpage (found at http://conncoll.libguides.com/libprize). Entries must be posted to the prize’s Moodle site, which can be accessed using the aforementioned library prize URL.

We look forward to reading your application!

 

 

On Fake News and Research Skills

In light of the emergence of fake news as one of the key stories following the 2016 presidential election, it’s worth (re-)considering the importance of evaluating information to any research process—whether that process involves writing a paper or gathering information about a candidate for office.

Although developing evaluation skills has always been integral to any research process, it’s arguably even more urgently needed now. That’s because libraries are no longer the sole gatekeepers of information, and it’s now possible to simply do a quick search on the web, find something that appears to relate to the topic at hand, and either forward  to someone else, or incorporate it into a paper or other piece of research.

As has been widely reported, a great deal of the fake news now circulates on social media networks. In this New York Times op-ed written by Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of library and information science at the University of North Carolina, the author takes Facebook to task for becoming a platform for misinformation campaigns (the pope endorses Donald Trump! An FBI agent who leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails found dead!).

Part of the problem, Tufekci argues, is Facebook’s algorithmic system, which promotes updates based on whether users find them “comforting.” But research isn’t supposed to be comforting; neither, correspondingly, is the moral and ethical work of citizenship. And helping students learn the moral and ethical work of citizenship is—or should be—in large part why we teach research skills on a college campus.

There have been signs that Facebook is taking steps to limit the fake news stories that are shared on its servers, but researchers—that is, those doing a paper or those simply gathering information to make an informed choice on an election—need to ask themselves a set of questions about every source they’re using, no matter how much the source may support one’s thesis or existing worldview, and no matter how much that source has been useful in the past.

First, who is responsible for the piece? A name isn’t enough; one needs to ask about the author’s credentials or authority to have written something on a particular topic. If it’s a news story, does it come from a reputable service—one that checks its facts, verifies its sources and provides multiple perspectives? Some of the fake Facebook posts came from the “Denver Guardian,” which sounds great until one realizes that no such news source exists. (Go ahead, Google it.)

Second, when was the piece written? In this election season, I saw articles forwarded and shared on social media that had been created months and even years earlier, making it seem as though they had just appeared. But facts and situations can change quickly, and in many research or fact-finding situations, it’s important to have current information, or at least to be aware of when an article appeared so that its date of creation can factor into one’s judgment about it.

Why was the piece written? To report the news, or to advance knowledge in a particular field? To get someone elected to an office? To spread fear, or to propagandize an issue? To make money? This question is often entangled with who wrote the story, but it’s equally important. (To think about the ways in which who wrote a piece can be bound up with why he or she wrote it, I suggest checking out this self-exculpatory New York Times op-ed written by someone who works for WikiLeaks.)

How and where did the author(s) get their information? In scholarly writing, this is precisely why citations must be provided—so that authors cannot simply assert something without some kind of backup. We need to be able to believe what authors are saying; it’s equally important to be able to verify their sources.

I’ve been trying to share the above questions with the first-year seminars with whom I’ve worked this past semester. We’ve looked at sources we found on the web and tried to think about evaluating them based on the above questions, rather than applying such abstract, blanket maxims such as “sites that come from a .edu or .org address are okay.” That’s not necessarily true; it’s always necessary to look closer at each article or book.

One of the first-year seminars I worked with was entitled “Performing Citizenship.” It was striking to me that the course focus and our work with evaluating sources were in particular alignment—and, similarly, that the task of critically evaluating research information and that of truly becoming an informed, participating citizen are one and the same. Whenever we undertake or assign research—and learn or teach the requisite skills to perform this research—we would do well to keep the responsibilities and imperatives of citizenship in full view.

— Fred Folmer

© 2019 ResearchScapes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑