Module 14: Researching Information
After reading and applying the information in Module 14, you'll be able to demonstrate
LO1 How and where to get information
LO2 How to begin to analyze information
LO3 How to prepare to take good notes
LO4 Identify primary and secondary sources
LO5 Find electronic and print information
LO6 Use the Internet for research
LO7 Analyze sources
LO8 Write questions for surveys and interviews
LO9 Prepare to take good notes
• How do I begin my research?
• How can I find information?
• How can I search efficiently?
• How should I analyze the information I find?
• How do I decide whom to survey or interview?
• How do I create surveys and write questions for interviews?
• How should I analyze the data I collect?
Assignments for Module 14
Polishing Your Prose: Combining Sentences
Researching includes finding and analyzing information. Research methods can be as simple as observing others'
behaviours or getting a computer printout of sales for the last month; it may involve finding online material, or
interviewing people. Whatever your methods, however, your information is only as valuable as your ability to analyze
and apply it.
Secondary research retrieves information that someone else has gathered: library research and online searches are
well-known kinds of secondary research. Primary research gathers new information. Personal observations,
experiences and experiments, and interviews and surveys are common methods for gathering and analyzing new
To research effectively, you need to know
Where and how to find information
How to evaluate and analyze the information you find
How to use that information professionally and ethically
This module covers how to research and evaluate primary and secondary research. Module 15 describes how to
synthesize the information and credit your sources. How Do I Begin My Research?
Focus your search: Identify your objective and draft a purpose statement.
To narrow your search for relevant information, identify your objective: What are you looking for, and why? Use
PAIBOC analysis (Figure 14.1) to identify your objective.
FIGURE 14.1 PAIBOC Questions for Analysis
Next, draft a thesis or working purpose statement to clarify your objective. Your working purpose statement
Narrows your research parameters: you search for and find the right information more efficiently
Structures your document or presentation
Becomes part of your document or presentation introduction
In your working purpose statement, include the situation and your rhetorical purposes. Figure 14.2 gives examples of
working purpose statements. For more details on writing working purpose statements, see Module 16. FIGURE 14.2 Working Purpose Statements
You might change your thesis or purpose statement when you have gathered and analyzed your information.
However, with a working thesis and your PAIBOC analysis, you can begin your search.
How Can I Find Information?
Learn what resources are available and how to use them
Libraries and the Internet offer billions of bytes of electronic information. Searchable databases of journals,
periodicals, magazines, and newspapers are free online through your public library and university or college library.
(SeeTables 14.1 and 15.1 for examples.) College and university libraries encourage faculty and students to ask their
research questions online in real time. Ask your reference librarian about the free resources available. Page 222
How Can I Search Efficiently?
Use keyword searches. Keywords are the terms the computer looks for in a database or on the Web.
The ABI/Inform Thesaurus lists synonyms and the hierarchies that index information in various databases.
At the beginning of a search, you might use all the synonyms and keywords you can think of. Skim several of the first
sources you find; if they use additional or different terms, search for these new terms as well. You're looking for the
keyword or phrase that will yield the specific information you need.
Refine your search:
Use root words to find variations. A root word such as stock followed by the plus sign (stock+) will
yield stock, stocks, stockmarket, and so forth.
Use quotation marks for multi-word terms. If you want only sites that use the term “business
communication,” put quotes around the term.
Page 223 Use a Boolean search to get more specific hits. For example, to study the effect of the minimum wage on
employment in the restaurant industry, you might specify (minimum wage) and (restaurant or fast
food) and(employment rate or unemployment).
Without and, you'd get articles that discuss the minimum wage in general, articles about every aspect of restaurants,
and every article that refers to unemployment, although many of these would not be relevant to your topic. Theor calls
up articles that use the term fast food but not restaurant, and vice versa. An article that used the phrase fast food
industry would be eliminated unless it also used the term restaurant. Figure 14.3 illustrates this Boolean search
FIGURE 14.3 Example of a Boolean Search Result FIGURE 14.4 Example of a Database Article from Boolean Search
Appears with the permission of Labour/ Le Travail and originally appeared in Issue # Spring 2007, p.59.
Use a variety of search engines. Check www.thesearchenginelist.com/ for a list of current and defunct
search engines, or use Google, still the world's most popular search engine, to search for “search engine
Use others' research. Sharing/networking sites like del.ic.ious and digg let you browse for information other
researchers have found, and to bookmark sites for yourself and other people.
Use all available resources. Search engines and databases, and college, university, and public libraries offer
search tips, topic browsing, advanced searches, and refined search topic phrases to help you navigate and
focus your search. Databases also provide citation styles, with examples, and pop-ups that format the
citation for you (Module 15).
Make the information come to you. Create an RSS (really simple syndication) Feed for the most current
information available. RSS sends subscribers up-to-date news articles:
[Y]ou get all the latest news right away without having to search the Web. You set up your preferences once
and the content comes to your desktop. Your subscription is anonymous. Many feeds are free, and you can
subscribe immediately on databases and search engines. 2 How Should I Analyze the Information I Find?
Ex.14.4 14.5 14.9
Find the best assessment tools available, and use them to examine every site
As electronic information sources and access have increased, so has the need for critical assessment. A number of
sites offer tutorials on how to use and evaluate Web sources. You can also find excellent online assessment tools on
your public, college, and university library sites.
To begin your critical analysis,
Use reputable sources. Start with sites produced by universities and established companies or
organizations. Be aware, however, that such organizations are not going to post information that makes
them look bad. To get the other side of the story, monitor blogs, bulletin boards, and email lists, or access
pages critical of the organization. (Search for “consumer opinion” and the name of the organization.)
Look for an author. Do individuals take “ownership” of the information? What are their credentials? Are they
subject experts? Where do they work? How can you contact them with questions? Remember that “.edu”
sites might be owned by students not yet experts on a subject.
Look for the date. How current is the information?
Check the source. Is the information adapted from other sources? If so, try to get the original.
Compare the information with other sources. Internet sources should complement print sources. When facts
are correct, you'll likely find them recorded elsewhere.
Evaluating online sources, especially Web pages, is absolutely vital, since anyone can post pages on the Web,
create a blog, tweet, or contribute to Wikipedia. Can you find at least one credible online or print source that agrees
with the Web information?
If you want to use citizen journalism, social networking, and community sites like Wikipedia,
First check with your professor or supervisor; many organizations do not accept information from Wikipedia,
How Stuff Works, or any encyclopaedia or “.com” (commercial) websites.
If you do get approval, find other reliable sources that support the information.
By contrast, many online and print sources, especially academic and peer-reviewed articles, periodicals, and
journals, have an editorial board that reviews material for accuracy and truthfulness. Peer experts often review these
sources before they are accepted. The review process helps ensure that information meets high standards.
Where Else Can I Find Information?
Powerful as it is, the Internet is just one search tool. Ask your reference librarian for research ideas, including print
sources. And remember that textbooks and on-file company information, such as annual reports, are useful sources.
You can also do primary research to get new information. You can use your own observations and experiences, and
consult topic experts and colleagues for information through interviews and surveys.
How Do I Decide Whom to Survey or Interview?
Use a random sample for surveys, if time and money permit. Use a judgment
sample for interviews.
Defining your population correctly is crucial to getting useful information. For example, suppose you wanted to
research and report on why people use social networking sites. First, you would have to define your parameters.
What do you mean by “use”? Are you considering frequency of visits? The number of hours spent on such sites? T