So you found some interesting sources, maybe. What do you do with them? Your instructor will probably expect you to read them carefully, assess what you’ve read, and then analyze and evaluate each source. If this sounds like a fair amount of intellectual work, you’re right, it is. This work is probably one of the main reasons why the instructor gave the assignment.
Here’s how some students go wrong at this stage of the research process:
1) They never understand the importance of this stage of the intellectual inquiry process, so they take shortcuts whenever possible, skim reading their sources, thinking little and making quick judgments about each source, and never evaluating a source except for determining whether it will help support some point they want to make.
Because there is little or no intellectual work taking place, It’s incredibly easy for a teacher to spot these shortcuts and grade accordingly.
2) They find sources and read them carefully, but the sources are somehow inappropriate for the purpose of the assignment: they’re out-of-date, lack authority, are the wrong type, or don’t apply to the topic at hand, etc. Instructors spot these problems easily.
3) They find sources that seem appropriate but don’t read them carefully. The student then decides the sources are all saying the same thing. The instructor will probably disagree since they know that publishers don’t like to publish something that says nothing new. The student has just revealed they didn’t read carefully.
4) They find sources and read them carefully, but they never analyze and evaluate the sources. They may evaluate a source’s usefulness in helping make an argument, but there’s little effort put into evaluating the credibility and accuracy of the author and their ideas. Again, this problem is easy to spot since there’s little intellectual engagement with the source.
5) They find sources and do a great job of assessing, analyzing, and evaluating them, but they fail to take good notes or keep track of each source so when they want to write up their results, it’s a blur and they have to reread everything! Aack!
Here are some tips on how to avoid these common problems:
Tip #1: You should plan on engaging in at least several stages of intellectual activity for each source: close reading, assessment and evaluation, analysis, or synthesis.
Synthesis (to combine separate pieces or components into a coherent whole, usually after you’ve analyzed and evaluated the separate pieces): see here.