Research Methods for Information Research

5. Other Methods

5.3 Drawing inferences: analysing bibliographies

A significant part of social science research involves looking at situations and drawing inferences from or making interpretations based on the products of people’s activities. One way of doing this is explored below.

The quality of students’ assignments

One way that we can infer whether efforts made by librarians to help students to collect and apply information more effectively are having an effect is by looking at the quality of student assignments or projects before and after any information literacy sessions offered (these sessions are sometimes called ‘information literacy’ or ‘information skills’ and a better description might be ‘problem-solving skills’). A university librarian recently adopted this approach and decided to focus on the quality of bibliographies attached to assignments. He asked what criteria would be useful in looking at a selection of bibliographies.

Clearly, the criteria will depend on what ground is covered in the information literacy work, but we suggested that they are likely to include:

  • the range of information sources reflected in the bibliography- especially anything cited beyond the immediately obvious
  • the balance amongst different types of sources – such as books. journal articles, websites, etc.
  • the quality of the items cited – whether they are current, emanate from established publishers or sources, are produced by authoritative authors, come from refereed journals, etc.
  • how well the bibliography is focussed - does it reflect the specific assignment set or is the emphasis on standard publications in the general subject area?
  • if general works are cited is it clear how they are relevant?
  • the accuracy of citation - what convention is used (if any) and how consistently is it applied?
  • Do the citations contain sufficient detail to allow other people to find and check the same sources? Are page references or specific site locations given for direct quotations?

We added a thought on how the librarian could collect the information and use it to further focus attention on creating good bibliographies. This can be done by asking the students to bring a bibliography (their own or a published example) to the session. Then get the students to criticise these in small groups and report back. The librarian can note this feedback as baseline information, then follow up with another discussion in a later session or by distributing a brief questionnaire covering issues raised in the first session to see whether students have improved their approach to producing bibliographies.