How to Conduct Research
Recently, I wrote a post on Barabbas and discussed how I encountered some conflicting information. I decided to do some research. During that process I found both credible and not-so-credible resources. The thought came to me that some people may not know how to discern if material is reliable or not. So this week I thought I’d share just some basic tips on how to conduct research and evaluate information.
They do teach some of this in high school and in college. So many of you might already know how to do this effectively. Sometimes though it’s nice to have refreshers. You might also learn a few tips and tricks of which you may have been unaware. I think you’ll also find some techniques very helpful when doing some Bible study and research.
Additionally, there may be some readers who find this helpful—especially in our current culture of biased media, people throwing out inaccurate data, and a world full of activist agendas. Even if you feel proficient in conducting research, feel free to watch the short video clips and learn a few tricks for web searches and such.
The CRAAP Test
I teach the CRAAP Test in my college classes. Sounds kinda crude doesn’t it? I joke with my students that this is the method they’ll use to recognize fact from crap! 😉 In all seriousness though, it’s a method used to help you know how to evaluate sources and material. It will help you determine which is good information and which isn’t.
Basically, CRAAP is just an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. This handout by California State University, Chico is one we refer to and distribute in my classes. However to give you a basic rundown of what it entails, I’ll describe each step.
This is the step where you determine how current the information is. It may or may not be important to know this depending on what you are trying to research. If you are trying to find out medical information, current research may be more beneficial. Whereas, if you are just trying to find facts about a historical figure (like Barabbas), when it was published may not be quite as important unless there are new findings or research.
For this, you would want to look for a posted, published, or revision date. In books, this should be on the first few pages (usually by the copyright information). For websites and/or periodicals, it will typically be near the title or end of the article. Also, another tip to be cautious of on websites is the functionality of the links. If links aren’t working properly, that could be an indicator that the site is old and not maintained or updated.
This step helps you decide if the material is relevant or relates to what you are trying to research. Here you will determine who the author was writing the material for (the audience). Does it answer questions you’re looking to answer? Is the information more advanced than you need it be (or too advanced for you to understand)?
When doing research on Barabbas, I found a few articles that I couldn’t use or that weren’t relevant. For example, I found one extremely lengthy article that didn’t really answer any of my questions and discussed more about “scapegoat rituals” which wasn’t specifically related to my topics. On the other hand, I found an article that stated “Did the gospels writers make that up?” which was exactly one of the questions I was trying to answer. Therefore it was extremely relevant.
Authority is simply determining the “author”. Where did the information come from? You’re trying to find out who wrote the material and if they are a credible source on the subject matter. Does the author have valid credentials? What is their background and what qualifies them to write about the matter at hand?
Wikipedia is a good example to use here. Most schools won’t allow students to use Wikipedia as a source. It’s considered a “tertiary source” instead of a primary or secondary source. It’s typically not deemed quite as credible due to the fact that anybody can be an author or edit the information contained there. In fact it’s built by thousands of people and changes every day. Even I can go add information to Wikipedia.
Now, in their defense, they do take pride in promptly removing material that isn’t factual (when discovered). For the most part, they strive to be a reliable source for factual information. They do take measures to maintain the integrity of their data. This is just something to keep in mind when conducting research using Wikipedia. It might be a good idea to fact check the data gathered from this site. It might also be beneficial to visit the primary and secondary sources cited to verify the information.
Another tip: Data on websites ending in .edu or .gov is typically deemed credible and authoritative. They are sites for an educational institution or government agency.
This step is checking to see if the information is reliable, truthful, and correct. Here you will check to see if the material has evidence to support its claims. This step of research can go hand-in-hand with authority too because you can often determine accuracy by discovering the author. You are also determining of the author has a bias or partiality on the subject. This could potentially be a hindrance in getting all of the facts or in getting balanced information.
Peer-reviewed or scholarly articles are considered fairly accurate because they are reviewed by several other scholars. Any inconsistencies or errors are normally caught in this process. I used a few scholarly articles when doing research on Barabbas.
Bible study tip: Always use the Bible to check facts (Acts 17:11-12). As Christians, we consider the Bible an infallible source inspired by God, Himself. It should be our “go-to”. Consider any information that contradicts the Bible to be inaccurate. However, when discussing issues with non-Christians you may need evidence outside of the Bible to back your research. Many unbelievers do not recognize the Bible as a credible source, in and of itself. This was the case with articles I read that said the gospel writers fabricated the character of Barabbas. Ultimately, I believe what the Bible says about the matter, but I also found additional evidence outside of the Bible to corroborate the validity of their testimony.
Finally, this step of evaluating information in research is to identify the reason that the information exists. What is its purpose? Some sources are merely available for the purpose of teaching and passing along information. On the other hand, some sources have intentions of trying to persuade you or to sell you something. The purpose behind the information needs to be taken into consideration when determining if the information is useful in your investigation. If the material is not impartial or contains some bias, it may not be completely reliable.
We can clearly see the purpose of scripture here:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)
Web Search Strategies
Doing research on the web/internet can create an overload of information. You often get more results than you’ll actually need. So how do you reduce the number of results, but still get good material? Take a look at this 3 minute video on “Web Search Strategies in Plain English” for some tips and shortcuts on how to do just that.
After reducing your results to a reasonable number, you can evaluate each website using the CRAAP method we just discussed. Here is a 3 minute video on how to think like an editor to find trustworthy information.
Searching Library Databases
When it’s difficult to find credible information, libraries can always be a useful source. Your school or local public library will often have access to information that you would typically have to pay to access outside of the library. They have subscriptions to media that is often perfect for research because of its reliability. These subscriptions are available to us through databases which can search thousands of articles and books. This short video will demonstrate how to use databases to conduct research that will take less time and give you better, more credible information.
Confirm your research with more than one source
One last tip comes straight from the Bible. It’s a strategy still used to this day in both crime investigation and in journalism. Find at least two credible sources verifying the same information. If multiple trustworthy sources validate and support the same evidence, it can typically be considered reliable.
“This will be my third visit to you.”Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”” 2 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
“But never put a person to death on the testimony of only one witness. There must always be two or three witnesses.” Deuteronomy 17:6 (NLT)
“”You must not convict anyone of a crime on the testimony of only one witness. The facts of the case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Deuteronomy 19:15 (NLT)
“But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.” Matthew 18:16 (NLT)
“Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact.” John 8:17 (NLT)
“Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses.” 1 Timothy 5:19 (NLT)
Take Some Practical Steps to Conduct Research:
I’m going to give you some homework today!
- Find something you’d like to research. Make it interesting and/or fun. For example, research a topic that you may not know a lot about off the top of your head. Have you ever heard differing opinions about the actual age of the earth (i.e. young-earth vs. old-earth theories)? Consider researching both sides of the issue and what biblical evidence shows. What about evolution? Do you know WHY you believe for or against it, and can you support your belief with your own research and evidence? What about differences in religions…have you ever wondered what the differences are between other religions and Christianity?
- Start your research—use the CRAAP Test to evaluate and find good information. Check any material you read from books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, or any online articles for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Use the strategies from the videos to assist you in your online searches and library database searches. Last, confirm your findings with at least 2-3 trustworthy sources.
- Conduct research to gain evidence outside the Bible, but use the Bible as your final authority.
What did you research? Share your findings by leaving a comment below.
Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, disrespectful, sarcastic, offensive, or off-topic. By posting on this site you agree to my Comment Policy.
P.S. If you liked this post, you might enjoy receiving new posts delivered right to your inbox each week! Sign up here.
If you know anyone that could benefit from this, please pay it forward! Share this post via the sharing links below. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)