Research Skills

What are research skills? 

When investigating an area in Science, it is important to understanding what information exists on that area already. One of the major benefits of modern technology is that students now have access to the combined knowledge of our species at their fingertips. The information is out there, but finding what is useful and accurate can be like finding a needle in a haystack at times. 

Research skills involve:-

How to research?

As a school student, you have access to lots of resources for completing research:- 

Internet-Based Research - How to Google

Due to resources availbale in the classroom, most research tasks within classes will be perform using internet-based research. 

Google (and other search engines) can be a good resource for research, if they are used effectively. But students must be taught the correct way to use a search engine to get the most out of them. 

The infographic below shows a set of basic skills to use within Google Searches:-

Below are two examples of a detailed Google Search for information:-

Google Scholar (Senior Phase)

Google Scholar is a search engine that covers scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and technical reports from broad areas of research.

You can use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, as well as scholarly articles available from across the web. Google Scholar works like the Google Main Search, but focuses only on education/scientific literature. 

Like regular Google, Google Scholar returns the most relevant results first, based on an item's full text, author, source, and the number of times it has been cited/referenced (used another paper and an acknowledgment given to original author) in other sources.

Below is an example of a detailed Google Scholar Search for information:-

Referencing (AH Physics Project)  

Referencing is an important part of academic work. It puts your work in context, demonstrates the breadth and depth of your research, and acknowledges other people's work. You should reference whenever you use someone else's idea. This prevents you being accused of Plagiarism (stealing others work). 

There are two methods of referencing that are acceptable for SQA assessments:- 

Harvard Referencing

Harvard is the most common referencing style used in UK universities. In Harvard style, the author and year are cited in-text, and full details of the source are given in a reference list. 

For example : "Referencing is an essential academic skill (Pears and Shields, 2019)."

A bibliography or reference list appears at the end of your text. It lists all your sources in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, giving complete information so that the reader can look them up if necessary.

The reference list entry starts with the author’s last name followed by initial(s). Only the first word of the title is capitalised (as well as any proper nouns). Below is an example of a Harvard-style reference for a book:-

For an online reference generator for Harvard referencing, please follow - This Link 

Vancouver Referencing

Vancouver is a system of referencing commonly used in biomedicine, among other scientific disciplines. In Vancouver style, you place a reference number in the text wherever a source is cited.  

For example : "Davies et al. state that the data is ‘unreliable’ (1, p. 15)"

This number corresponds to an entry in your reference list – a numbered list of all the sources cited in your text, giving complete information on each. 

Below is an example of a Vancouver-style reference for a website:-

For an online reference generator for Vancouver referencing, please follow  - This Link 

Evaluating Research : Unbiased, Accurate & Truthful

Access to the sum total of human knowledge does have a major limitation - anyone can post anything they like online, whether it is true or not. 

A major task for a student researching any topic is to identify whether the information they are using comes from a reliable, unbiased source. It is this that forms a key skill in research. 

Bias is our perception of the way things are or should be, even if it's not accurate. Humans show bias when we assume that something is one way based on our experiences or beliefs. Biased language can be used to highlight a point of view and persuade someone to agree with it.

The person or organisation sharing the information might be trying to persuade people that their view is correct, but may not present all the evidence or information that contradicts their viewpoint, or even be lying in order to get your support). 

So how do we spot bias online? 

Key things to look for when considering if a source is biased, is to decide if the the source

Note - Not all of these have to be present for a source to be biased, that is what makes spotting bias online difficult. 

The videos below show information on how to spot misleading information online:-

Misleading Reporting Case Study : News Group Comparison

The two images below are headlines from two different news groups, with identifying elements removed from each. The headlines both refer to the same story, a petition against a new 20 m.p.h. speed limit across Wales. 

News Group 1

News Group 2

Even though both of these headlines and opening statements contain the same basic factual content (new speed limit, over 100,000 signatures on a petition against it), the method of reporting is vastly different : 

News Group 1

News Group 2

Do you feel that these are both unbiased reporting ? 

If not, why not ? 

Misleading Reporting Case Study : Click-Bait

Sometimes, reporting can be done in a way to encourage people to read an article, or click on a link to a site, this is known as 'click-bait'. An example of this can be seen in the following headline from the British newspaper, The Daily Mirror : 

This headline is a good example of 'click-bait', it draws the reader in by using language to manipulate the reader into jumping to a false conclusion. 

None of the statistics in the article are wrong, the averages calculated for the UK would indeed change without Scotland's data being included. The article also finishes by explicitly stating that the weather won't actually change if the political boundaries of the UK changed. 

However, the implication of the headline is that somehow the presence of Scotland alters the weather, which makes this misleading reporting. 

Spotting Bias : Lateral Reading

When deciding if a source is giving unbiased and accurate information, Lateral Reading is a good technique to use. Lateral reading is when you look outside of your source to seek additional information about a source's credibility, reputation, funding sources, and biases. This will help you make an informed decision on whether to trust a source or not. 

The four videos below show a guide to Lateral Reading:-

1 : Introduction

2 : Investigate the source

3 : Find the original source

4 : Look for trusted work

Bias, Accuracy & Truth in Scientific Publications : Peer-Review

One of the key methods in Science to avoid bias, and make sure your work is accurate and correct, is through Peer-Review. 

Scientists across the world form a scientific community. For scientists, their peers are other scientists. In When a Scientific paper is Peer-Reviewed, conclusions from new scientific research are checked by other scientists, who check the method used, the accuracy of the results and the conclusions drawn. Scientists also check that the research is valid and original.

In doing this, scientists help to make sure that bias has been avoided. This helps other scientists and non-scientists across the world have confidence in what they are reading or are being told about. 

The video below shows how Peer-Review makes scientific papers more trustworthy:-

Unbiased, Accurate & Truthful Case Study : News Media

The infographic below shows how news media in the UK can be viewed in terms of accurate, unbiased reporting:-

But is this infographic itself unbiased, accurate & truthful? 

If we apply the Lateral Reading technique to this infographic, we find the following:- 

Questions to ask about the gathered Lateral Reading :