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You will find that to first year students, using evidence to build persuasive arguments is a new concept, but not a new process. They regularly do it in their conversations with peers but just don’t think of it this way. Evidence can be statistics, facts, research studies and conclusions found in scholarly articles. Students may lament that they cannot find the perfect article that encapsulates their argument. Remind them that the goal is to find pieces of evidence that support their argument and weave them together. In addition, your students may think everything in the library is “good” and they don’t have to evaluate library sources, in particular scholarly sources. While they shouldn’t be expected to evaluate scholarly sources at the level that you, as a graduate student and someone immersed in the literature can, there are basics that they can begin to learn now.
Ask students to walk through this example with you. It can also be structured as a discussion - for example, ask them to generate criteria they’d use to indicate that Walmart is a socially irresponsible company and then ask them what kind of evidence would support each of those criteria.
First, I’ve identified some controversies surrounding Walmart in my background information searching. These are the criteria I want to base my argument upon - poor labor practices, destruction of small businesses, and harmful to the environment.
Up to this point, your students have spent most of their time searching for viewpoints. Remind them that multidisciplinary databases such as Academic Search Complete and Academic OneFile are useful places to find scholarly sources. For help distinguishing between popular and scholarly, use this Popular vs. Scholarly Guide. In addition, remind them that they can choose subject specific databases to find research studies in particular areas (such as a study about the effects of paving on groundwater quality in an environmental studies journal). See the section in Finding Viewpoints (make it a link) entitled “How do you choose a database to search?” for help teaching this to your students.
Many students who read magazines or listen to/watch/read the news are used to hearing the phrase "A recent study from..." You can explain that this study would have been published in a scholarly journal and then discuss the difference between the original study and the report of the study in the popular source. In addition to more fully illustrating the difference between scholarly and popular sources, it provides an opportunity to discuss audience.
"Study: Sex on TV impacts teen pregnancy risk
Rates are much higher for those who watch a lot, researchers say"
By LINDSEY TANNER
Nov. 3, 2008, 10:49AM
Original study in academic journal:
"Does Watching Sex on Television Predict Teen Pregnancy? Findings From a National Longitudinal Survey of Youth"
Anita Chandra, DrPHa, Steven C. Martino, PhDb, Rebecca L. Collins, PhDc, Marc N. Elliott, PhDc, Sandra H. Berry, MAc, David E. Kanouse, PhDc and Angela Miu, MSc. PEDIATRICS Vol. 122 No. 5 November 2008, pp. 1047-1054
In order to get your students thinking about evaluating library resources they plan to use as evidence, lead a discussion with these questions as starting points.
You might also want to emphasize evaluating sources by comparing it to other sources. Suggest reading multiple abstracts in a database search before deciding which article will include the information needed. Students might think it is easier to use the first result of their first search. Tell your students they might be missing valuable information if they do not consider their other options. If they feel they are getting too many results to go through, suggest refining their search by using narrower or different keywords.
If your students are writing about local issues, be sure to point them to the Finding Information about Local Issues guide. In addition, make sure they understand that they may have to look at their issue in a broader context (state, national, international) but that is ok. For example, if they are writing about the importance of adding more green space to the West Mall, they may find some viewpoints about this in the DailyTexan but they can also use discussions of the importance of green space on college campuses more generally to support their argument.
Note: The last two questions on the worksheet will probably be very difficult for freshmen to answer. These questions push them to create a more comprehensive research plan than they probably usually create and think about the nature and cycle of information.
Note: You can split this up over a few sessions by having them work through the first part of the Evidence worksheet as a take-home exercise, and then spending time in class doing group work to determine where information would be published, reviewing keywords and databases and having them find one piece of evidence they identified.