Research Briefs: FAQ

Peter Bobkowski and Nicole-Marie Konopelko

At the University of Kansas, students who use this textbook also complete a series of assignments called Research Briefs. For the reference of non-KU readers, here are the spring 2020 instructions for completing these assignments: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

KU students: the above instructions are out of date. See your course Blackboard for the current instructions.

This chapter answers these most-frequently asked questions that KU students ask about their assignments:

Whole Assignment Questions
Does “brief” mean that this is a short assignment?
When and where should I embed links?
Section 1 Questions
How many searches is enough?
What if my search doesn’t show good results?
How should I take notes of my searches?
Section 2 Questions
What credibility cues should I be reviewing?
What if my credibility evaluations are the same for more than one source?
What if a source isn’t credible?
What should I write in the evidence part of the evaluation?
What should I write about bias?
Section 3 Questions
How should I write my brief in Section 3?

Whole-Assignment Questions

Does “brief” mean that this is a short assignment?

In brief, no.

We call these assignments briefs, as in, a synopsis or a summary (see Merriam-Webster’s definition 2b, under “noun”). Ideally, you or someone else could use your brief to write an article or a report about the topic you summarized in the brief.

Above all else, we expect the brief to be thorough. Some students have completed 40-page briefs, but you probably don’t need to write that much. Most strong briefs range between 10 and 20 pages. If your brief is fewer than 5 pages, it’s probably not thorough enough.

When and where should I embed links?

You should use embedded links (or hyperlinks) any time you refer to an article, document, website or any other online source that can be reached with a link.

You should be using embedded links in every section of the brief. For example:

Exception: Do not embed a link that doesn’t lead to the page you are referencing.

For example, Mintel and IBISWorld research report URLs (e.g., https://my-ibisworld-com.www2.lib.ku.edu/us/en/industry/33612/about) redirect to the KU Single Sign-On page when off-campus. Links to documents in the Douglas County historical properties database redirect to the database’s landing page. Embedding links like these is not helpful. Before embedding, test each link in a different browser from the one you used to generate it, to make sure that it will work for your instructor.

To learn how to embed links, visit the Attribute All Sources chapter.

Section 1 Questions

How many searches is enough?

Research is not a linear process and, unfortunately, there’s no formula to finding the answers you are looking for. This is why it’s not possible to specify the number of searches you should conduct for each assignment.

Your searches should be exhaustive. This means that you should continue searching until you exhaust all possibilities. You will know you have reached this point when you come across only articles and topics that you have seen already. This is when you should stop searching and move on to the next section.

What if my search doesn’t show good results?

Record and document this search anyway. Unhelpful research results still matter because they help you refine your search terms, and clarify your understanding of your topic.

Your instructors want to see your search struggles, and to know that your search strategies are evolving. So it’s perfectly okay, and preferable, to show that not all your research results hit the bull’s eye.

How should I take notes of my searches?

You should document five things for each search:

  1. The “collection” you used (e.g., Google, a database).
  2. The search term you used. Show off your skills by including one or more search operators.
  3. A brief explanation of why you used the search term, and why you used the search operator.
  4. A summary of the results.
  5. Key findings from the results you looked into.

Your instructors want to see that you are a critical researcher and that you are using all of the search skills covered in the early chapters of the textbook.

Section 2 Questions

What credibility cues should I be reviewing?

The credibility cues you use to evaluate a public record should be different from the cues you use to evaluate a website. The chart below lists many of the sources you will evaluate and the credibility cues you could evaluate for each source.

  Primary / secondary Publisher Author Sources Writing style Bias Content Research methods Date
Website X X X X X X X X
Social media account X X X X X
Public record X X X X X
News article X X X X X X X X
Data X X X X X X
Databases (e.g., EDGAR)
Marketing research report X X X X X X X X X
Scholarly study X X X X X X X X
Organization website (nonprofit or for-profit) X X X X X
Form 990 X X X X X
10-K Annual Report, DEF 14A Proxy Statement X X X X X

What if my credibility evaluations are the same for more than one source?

You can copy some information from one evaluation to another. But no two sources are identical. So if it seems to you that you can copy-and-paste one source’s evaluation into another source, you probably haven’t researched these two sources thoroughly enough.

What if a source isn’t credible?

Evaluate it in Section 2, but don’t use it in Section 3. Evaluating non-credible sources shows your instructor that you are thinking critically, and using the evaluation process to discard some sources.

What should I write in the evidence part of the evaluation?

Evidence is what you base your evaluation on. It’s something that suggests a source is credible or not credible (or somewhere in between).

Your opinion is not evidence. Feeling that something is credible is not evidence. Having used a source in the past is not evidence.

Instead, you need to find specific information inside or outside the cue that indicates something about its credibility.

In addition, it’s not enough to name the evidence. You need to use full sentences to explain what the evidence says about the source’s credibility.

Here are some incomplete evidence statements about this article:

“This article lists Kondo’s accomplishments and explains how she reached these goals.”

The fact that the article said something about Kondo is not evidence.

“I would not cite this article because Refinery29 is not exactly known for its hard-hitting journalism.”

This is an opinion about Refinery29. Opinion is not evidence.

“Refinery29 shows up on my social media feeds so I would cite this article because I am familiar with this source.”

Social media presence is not evidence.

“The article includes sources and none of them seem to be unreliable, which makes me believe that this is a credible source.”

This is an opinion about the article’s sources. Opinion is not evidence.

“This article quotes some reputable places like the New York Times, but also some places like Celebrity Net Worth, which I do not believe is a credible source.”

These are two opinions about the article’s sources. Opinions are not evidence.

Here are some complete evidence statements about the same article:

“The content of this article is not credible because a lot of it was based on speculation. For example, when talking about Kondo’s success, the author wrote, ‘And does her bank account spark joy? We investigated. (And while we can’t confirm the answer to the latter question, my guess would be yes.)'”

The quote from the article is evidence for the argument that “a lot of it was based on speculation.”

“I would not use this source because I don’t believe Refinery29 is a credible news source. It is focused on entertainment as opposed to publishing articles for the purpose of informing. Other articles from this source include “The Cutest Couples At The SAG Awards” and “Maggie Rogers Has The Best Fans Because She Is The Best.””

The three examples of article titles are evidence for the argument “I don’t believe Refinery29 is a credible source.”

“Author Anabel Pasarow seems like a credible writer. Her LinkedIn says she attended Wesleyan University, and an article on the university’s website says that she majored in English and math. USNews.com ranks Wesleyan as 18th on a list of Best National Liberal Arts Colleges. Her LinkedIn also lists three internship positions, an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House, and her current job as a production assistant at Refinery29. Her Refinery29 page shows a multitude of articles written in the past year. Pasarow got her degree at a fairly reputable college and has experience in the field.”

All of the information from the author’s LinkedIn profile is evidence for the argument that “Pasarow seems like a credible writer.”

What should I write about bias?

Bias is the “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group,” according to the Oxford Living Dictionaries definition in the Contend With Bias chapter.

A bias students often miss evaluating is the self-bias of an information producer. Self-bias manifests in two information sources you evaluate in this course:

  1. Every social media profile. Think about your Instagram and Twitter. Do the pictures you post reflect your reality, or are they carefully curated only to present your best life now? Best life now, of course. Keep this in mind as you examine the self-bias inherent in any individual’s or organization’s social media.
  2. Every website or form that an organization completes about itself. Every company and nonprofit organization wants to present itself in the best light possible. Organizations tend to either minimize or obscure negative information about itself. You should be suspicious of information organizations say on their websites, Annual Reports, Forms 990, and Proxy Statements. Look for clues to negative information that may not be highlighted.

Section 3 Questions

How should I write my brief in Section 3?

Your Section 3 is not about how good your searches were or what you found most interesting in your searches. You already should have said that in Section 1.

A solid Section 3:

  • Is a concise-yet-interesting summary of your most important findings.
  • Starts with the most interesting information. Ends with the most general or background information.
  • Contains evidence, not personal opinion.
  • Is written in third person (it, its, he, she, his, her, they, their), not first person (I, my, we, our).
  • Uses paragraphs that are somewhere between one and four sentences long, similar to a news story.
  • Attributes all information to a source using “according to.” It’s perfectly okay to repeat “according to” many times in this section.
  • Embeds links to online sources that can be reached with a link.

Here is an example of what a solid Section 3 brief looks like.

image

Notice how the student hyperlinks to each source in the brief, and how their paragraphs are short throughout the brief. Remember, the paragraphs in your brief should also be short—no longer than four to five sentences—just like paragraphs in news stories.

The student also begins their brief with the most important information. In this section of your research brief, you should use your research to tell a story.

Peer Tutorials: Research Brief Assignments

In the following video, Sophie Misle and Emma Walsh (JOUR 302, spring 2019) demonstrate how to use credibility cues to evaluate the credibility of sources in Section 2 of the research brief assignments.

In the following video, Kylee Xu (JOUR 302, fall 2018) demonstrates how to effectively use Google search operators to find research for the research brief assignments.

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Be Credible by Peter Bobkowski and Nicole-Marie Konopelko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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