Basics of Scientific Research
What is scientific research and why it is necessary? Well, to research is to investigate, interpret, and revise existing knowledge, and hopefully, to add to the existing body of knowledge through the discovery of new information.
When preparing a research paper, authors almost always source previous information relevant to their research topic. Where we take this information from is near-limitless; however, it is of utmost importance that such information is valid or credible.
But first, how do we conduct research and why? When studying a topic of interest, we develop research questions, objectives, and hypotheses, and finally, we validate our research study by discussing its background and significance to the existing research available on the topic.
What is a credible source?
Have you ever heard of the term, fake news? Well, when a source lacks validity, it cannot be considered true⎯hence, such news lacks authenticity. In scientific research, sources are used to give substance to your research, to support your hypothesis and findings, and to present existing research in the context of a new study. To be credible, a source must biased and written by a trustworthy and reliable author, organization, or publisher, such as a scientific journal.
We can group sources as either primary, secondary, and tertiary. You’ll most likely be using primary sources for your research, since they are the most credible, but most authors use a combination of the three over the course of their study. Let’s take a brief look at each source type:
Primary sources give first-hand evidence on a given topic, and include datasets, such as empirical evidence and statistical results; newspapers or magazines; and photographs, videos and sound clips of speeches or interviews.
Secondary sources evaluate, describe, or analyze primary sources, and generally include books, journals, blogs, and documentaries published by reliable organizations.
Tertiary sources comprise the collection of primary and secondary sources, and typically comprise encyclopedias, databases, dictionaries, bibliographies, and textbooks.
Where can we find credible sources?
In scientific research, academic journals are the most credible sources available. Scholarly databases, such as Google Scholar and JSTOR, are also great resources since most articles and books are peer-reviewed, originate from reputable publishing bodies and have already been cited by numerous researchers. Websites with suffixes such as .org, .gov, .edu, etc. are also credible sources since they are usually subject to peer review.
In contrast, there is a wealth of information online that is not valid nor credible. Despite being a good place to start your research, Wikipedia is not a valid source since all the information in the online encyclopedia is user-generated; therefore, anyone can edit information on any given page. The same can be said for most websites, blogs, social media feeds, and video databases such as YouTube.
Whereas in the past, primary research material came from books, more recently, the internet has provided us with a vast information network on an unprecedented scale, yet it also presents challenges regarding data validity and reliability. Given that a paper is only as good as the research within it, to confirm our research sources are reliable, we’ll generally use the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) test, which is explained through its respective abbreviations:
Currency: When was the source published? Is the information current? (i.e. within the last 6-10 years, depending on the subject)
Relevance: How relevant is the source to your research topic?
Authority: Is the cited author experienced in their profession or an expert in the field? Was this statement published by a reputed organization, publisher, institution? The author’s stature gives more weight to their statement.
Accuracy: How reliable is the information? Where does it come from? Does the author support their claim with evidence?
Purpose: Why did the author make this statement? Is their statement biased? Is their statement merely an opinion, or do they back it up with factual evidence? Was their statement published by a reputable organization?
How to cite credible sources
When including research sources in any academic text (e.g., thesis, dissertation, research paper, essay, etc.), it is standard practice to include an in-text citation and a respective reference in the form of a bibliography/works cited section or a footnote. Depending on the subject and document type, multiple citation formats are used. For example, APA is more common in academic journals and books, particularly in the social sciences, whereas MLA is more often used in humanities and cultural studies. Any information used in your paper must include an in-text citation placed after the quotation, and a full reference given at the end of the paper or as a footnote. If you fail to include this information, then you could be found guilty of plagiarism.
When citing information, an in-text citation usually follows the author-date style (APA) or the author-page style (MLA). The reference provides the following information on the credible source:
- The author/s initials and surname
- Title of work
- Publisher’s name
- Date of publication
- The page number of the source
Here are two examples of a typical APA and MLA in-text citation and reference taken from the Purdue OWL, a go-to resource for the APA and MLA style guides:
In-text citation (author-date style): (Scruton, 1996)
Reference: Scruton, R. (1996). The eclipse of listening. The New Criterion, 15(3), 5–13.
In-text citation (author-page style): (Duvall 127-53)
Reference: Duvall, John N. “The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise.” Arizona Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 3, 1994, pp. 127-53.
This article discussed the importance of providing valid sources, and as you can tell, there’s a lot of information to take in. To make less work for yourself while ensuring your scientific research is up to scratch, consider hiring a professional editor to make sure all your sources are both credible and cited appropriately.