This morning Nik Peachy shared a free, online or downloadable text book  Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries.   Thinking about the IB DP IA and EE work, I decided to have a look.

“Choosing & Using Sources presents a process for academic research and writing, from formulating your research question to selecting good information and using it effectively in your research assignment. Additional chapters cover understanding types of sources, searching for information, and avoiding plagiarism. Each chapter includes self-quizzes and activities to reinforce core concepts and help you apply them. There are also appendices for quick reference on search tools, copyright basics, and fair use.

Written by Ohio State University Libraries’ Office of Teaching & Learning, this attractive book is targeted to college students and their instructors.”  

The book has received many 5 star reviews from college faculty and librarians,  which are  posted on the University of Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library page. I share just two paragraphs from among them:

“This text is a comprehensive review of the various types of sources one might need to complete a research project or paper. The book begins with a clear explanation of how to formulate a research question, while the majority of the chapters focus on finding and evaluating sources. The topics in this text are well-chosen and reflect several aspects of academic writing in which beginning researchers might struggle, such as how to do a precision search, understanding biased versus unbiased sources, and how to decide between quoting or paraphrasing. This book is written at a level that undergraduates should easily be able to comprehend, while the content of the chapters gets increasingly detailed and complex throughout the book. There is no index or glossary at the back of the book, but there is a very complete table of contents at the beginning of the text. Readers might find it useful if the chapter titles in the table of contents were in bold, as the detailed breakdown of sections—while helpful—can be overwhelming when one is looking for the main categories of the book.” (Reviewed by Heather Jerónimo, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Iowa, on 2/9/2017.)

“This text is very readable and easy to understand. Concepts are explained clearly. Exercises and examples are provided to help students grasp each new concept. It is written in a casual tone that appears to make an effort to put its readers at ease while giving solid information about how to complete research and writing assignments successfully.” (Reviewed by Jennifer Lantrip, Reference Librarian, Umpqua Community College, on 2/9/2017.)

To give you a feel for the book, here are a few paragraphs and an infographic from Chapter 4, Precision Searching: Why Precision Searching?:

“Starting with a research question helps you figure out precisely what you’re looking for. Next, you’ll need the most effective set of search terms – starting from main concepts and then identifying related terms. Those search terms need to be organized in the most effective way as search statements, which you actually type into a search box.

An important thing to remember is that searching is an iterative process: we try search statements, take a look at what we found and, if the results weren’t good enough, edit our search statements and search again—often multiple times. Most of the time, the first statements we try are not the best, even though Google or another search tool we’re using may give us many results.

It pays to search further for the sources that will help you the most. Be picky.”

From Chapter 6: Evaluating Sources: Thinking Critically About Sources:

“Source evaluation usually takes place in two stages:

  • First you try to determine which sources are credible and relevant to your assignment.
  • Later, you try to decide which of those relevant and credible sources contain information that you actually want to quote, paraphrase, or summarize. This requires a closer reading, a finer examination of the source.

This lesson teaches the first kind of evaluation—how to weed out sources that are irrelevant and not credible and how to “weed in” those that are relevant enough and credible enough.

Because there often aren’t clear-cut answers when you evaluate sources, most of the time you have to make inferences–educated guesses from available clues–about whether to use information from the website or other source.

The clues are factors you should consider when trying to decide whether a source is:

  • A relevant source of information – Is it truly about your topic and from the right time period?
  • A credible source of information – Is there sufficient reason to believe it’s accurate? “

I think this book could be a very useful resource for IB students in both the DP and MYP faced with what for many can be daunting writing assignments.  It could provide a sort of hand-holding comfort for students who are new to academic writing, or for whom a 4000 word research paper seems overwhelming.  It might also be a useful teaching tool to those guiding these academic writing assignments.