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Focus on True Crime Media Analysis Project: Research Tips

Check out our recommended sources in the Library and online for information on analyzing media for true crime.

SIFT

Stop signWhen you initially encounter a source of information and start to read it—stop. Ask yourself whether you know and trust the author, publisher, publication, or website. If you don’t, use the other fact-checking moves that follow, to get a better sense of what you’re looking at. In other words, don’t read, share, or use the source in your research until you know what it is, and you can verify it is reliable.

This is a particularly important step, considering what we know about the attention economy—social media, news organizations, and other digital platforms purposely promote sensational, divisive, and outrage-inducing content that emotionally hijacks our attention in order to keep us “engaged” with their sites (clicking, liking, commenting, sharing). Stop and check your emotions before engaging!

Investigate Sources

You don’t have to do a three-hour investigation into a source before you engage with it. But if you’re reading a piece on economics, and the author is a Nobel prize-winning economist, that would be useful information. Likewise, if you’re watching a video on the many benefits of milk consumption, you would want to be aware if the video was produced by the dairy industry. This doesn’t mean the Nobel economist will always be right and that the dairy industry can’t ever be trusted. But knowing the expertise and agenda of the person who created the source is crucial to your interpretation of the information provided.

When investigating a source, fact-checkers read “laterally” across many websites, rather than digging deep (reading “vertically”) into the one source they are evaluating. That is, they don’t spend much time on the source itself, but instead they quickly get off the page and see what others have said about the source. They open up many tabs in their browser, piecing together different bits of information from across the web to get a better picture of the source they’re investigating.

Please watch the following short video [2:44] for a demonstration of this strategy. Pay particular attention to how Wikipedia can be used to quickly get useful information about publications, organizations, and authors.

Find Better Coverage

What if the source you find is low-quality, or you can’t determine if it is reliable or not? Perhaps  you don’t really care about the source—you care about the claim that source is making. You want to know if it is true or false. You want to know if it represents a consensus viewpoint, or if it is the subject of much disagreement. A common example of this is a meme you might encounter on social media. The random person or group who posted the meme may be less important than the quote or claim the meme makes.

Your best strategy in this case might actually be to find a better source altogether, to look for other coverage that includes trusted reporting or analysis on that same claim. Rather than relying on the source that you initially found, you can trade up for a higher quality source.

The point is that you’re not wedded to using that initial source. We have the internet! You can go out and find a better source, and invest your time there. Please watch this video [4:10] that demonstrates this strategy and notes how fact-checkers build a library of trusted sources they can rely on to provide better coverage.

Trace Claims and Quotes to the original source

Much of what we find on the internet has been stripped of context. Maybe there’s a video of a fight between two people with Person A as the aggressor. But what happened before that? What was clipped out of the video and what stayed in? Maybe there’s a picture that seems real but the caption could be misleading. Maybe a claim is made about a new medical treatment based on a research finding—but you’re not certain if the cited research paper actually said that. The people who re-report these stories either get things wrong by mistake, or, in some cases, they are intentionally misleading us.

In these cases you will want to trace the claim, quote, or media back to the source, so you can see it in its original context and get a sense of whether the version you saw was accurately presented. Please watch the following video [1:33] that discusses re-reporting vs. original reporting and demonstrates a quick tip: going “upstream” to find the original reporting source.

Searching the Library Catalog

Improve Your Search with Boolean Operators (video)

How to Spot Misinformation

Research Tips

  • Use keywords in library databases instead of sentences and questions. 
    • When searching the library catalog or one of TCC's literary databases, try search for your topic keyword(s) along with "Fahrenheit 451" or "Bradbury" first. For example: ("censorship" AND "Fahrenheit 451") or ("literacy" AND "Bradbury"). Try several variations to maximize the number of relevant results. 
    • Also consider searching for your topic along with the "criticism" or "analysis" or "literature". For example: ("technology" AND "criticism") or ("oppression" and "literature"). While the results might not be directly related to Fahrenheit 451, the information in those text could be used to support your argument.
  • To look for an exact phrase, type your phrase within quotation marks ("  "). The results will contain the exact words in the quotation marks.
  • Use an asterisk (*) at the end of a root word, known as truncation, to retrieve results containing any form of the root word.
    • Example: teen* will find teens, teenage, teenager, teenagers
  • Use filters to refine your results by subject terms/topics, date, type of publication, language, peer-reviewed, etc.
  • Some databases use Boolean Operators. Narrow or expand your search by combining keywords using  AND / OR / NOT operators, as shown below.

            

The Information Cycle

Research

When preparing to write or speak about a topic, your first step is to gather information. You will need to do research to ensure that you provide your audience with sufficient background information and support your claims. Doing research involves more than finding a few books or articles on a topic; a researcher’s job is to find useful, relevant, and reliable information, which can be challenging. This chapter will help by providing an introduction to research terminology and the research process.

Primary and Secondary Sources

You may hear sources described as either “primary” or “secondary,” and understanding this distinction can help you assess what types of information are useful for your various needs.

A primary source is one that is original and first-hand. This has different meanings depending on the disciplinary context, but generally refers to the product of someone’s original work, such as the results of a scientist’s study, or an author’s novel. You may access published primary sources in introductory college courses like this one, and you will definitely do so as you progress in your discipline. Keep in mind that primary sources are generally factual rather than analysis or interpretation, although not in all cases.

In your research, you more frequently use secondary sources, which are articles, books, and websites that involve analysis or interpretation of primary sources. While a scientific study would be a primary source, a magazine article about the findings of that study would be considered a secondary source.

Whether you use a primary or a secondary source depends on our purpose, topic, audience, and context. If you engage in undergraduate research in your junior or senior year and present at a conference, you will be expected to have some primary research. However, for most of your college work, you will be looking for reliable secondary sources. One way to assess the quality of a secondary source is to look at its references or bibliography. A reliable source will cite other sources to support its claims. Likewise, a well-researched speech will provide support for its argument by using evidence obtained from reliable sources.

Most researchers begin their work by evaluating the current information that exists on their topic. They may look at a combination of primary and secondary sources during this process. Their goal is to find out what is currently known about a topic and where the research may be headed. Students completing a research-based assignment will begin much the same way.

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