7: Analysing source material

So far, we have gone from collecting the source material to reading it and gaining some comprehension around it. Now, it is time to analyse and evaluate this source material so that you can determine how it will fit within your dissertation or thesis plan or within the scope of your research report. This is also a very important stage in your academic work because you are working with your critical thinking skills to determine the origin of the information, its reliability and accuracy, and whether it falls under the category of fact, truth, or opinion.

Although surprising, the truth is that you will find that, as you research, you will come across information and data that contains contradictory statements and arguments while others may not have provided the most reliable data or presented it in a questionable way. Basically, not all research was created equally so it is up to you to use your analytical skills to separate the good from the less accurate. This takes a lot of practice, so this chapter is designed to help you get better at analysis and evaluation.

The key topics covered in this chapter include:

  • How to understand the origin of information and ideas from primary and secondary sources;
  • How to assess whether the information contains facts, truth, or opinions; and
  • How to back up your own opinions and conclusions.

Let's get going on analysis!

Chapter 7 contents:

7: Analysing source material - Dissertation writing help

7.1: Consider the source: The origin of information and facts

All information and ideas, including numerical data, concepts, and interpretations, come from somewhere and that somewhere is usually a person who has researched or thought about that information or idea for a certain time period. There are typically two categories of information and source material - primary and secondary.

Here is how each type of source is defined to help you understand their origin:

  • Primary research is information, ideas, or numerical data that is communicated directly from the source. This includes information that comes from experts in a particular field. Information that comes from a survey or interview can also be considered as primary research. Try to source primary sources first and foremost as they tend to have more credibility.
  • Secondary research involves quoting, adapting, or interpreting information that came from a primary source. This is information that can often be found in books and articles as information from others is continually being used to prove or disprove other people's ideas or information on a subject. Essentially, you are using secondary research to put together your research but you may also be choosing to interview or survey people, which would then expand your research to primary evidence.

Did you know that not all facts are true? Read on about what you need to do to determine if the source material you have is valid, reliable, and true.

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7.2: Assessing validity and reliability

One of the most challenging aspects of reviewing your source material for your dissertation, thesis, or research report is to determine if it is valid and reliable. There are many ways that information can be inaccurate:

  • Information and ideas can be misrepresented and misquoted.
  • The farther you get from the primary source of that information, the more likely it becomes tainted with wrong interpretations. The information can become edited along the way, which may change the context.
  • The author on the source may not actually be a true expert or authority on the subject. If they do not list credible qualifications or provide a bio on their experience, there could be some question as to the validity of the information.
  • The sources used within the information are not credible.

One way to help determine validity and reliability is to gain a better understanding about the concepts of facts, opinion, and truth. While it can be said that, in many fields, there are no right or wrong answers, there are definitely some criteria for determining if there is a credible argument and a means of reaching some type of value judgment on a particular issue or problem. That leads us to our next section on drawing credible conclusions and how to insert an opinion or viewpoint on a certain subject.

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7.3: Creating credible conclusions and incorporating opinions

What can be the most challenging is determining truth - a concept that has been debated for centuries and have all sorts of philosophical connotations. The overall definition is that truth is determined when all sides of the argument accept information on a certain subject matter. If credibility can be called into question, then that truth can be questioned. That is why there are different concepts about truth that have to be understood:

  • Objectivity involves having and providing a balanced explanation of all the facts that are available.
  • Subjectivity involves the opinion of one person only.

When it comes to your academic writing, you want to make sure you focus on objectivity and detachment from the subject in terms of your personal opinions. If you do share your ideas on a particular subject, it is important to just make sure you have valid reasons and evidence to back it up. The evidence you can use consists of many possibilities:

  • Statistical data from statistical studies or surveys
  • Quotations and interview transcripts
  • Observation and field work

When you do use these primary and secondary sources for evidence, always remember to cite where and who it came from so you are not held to suspicion of plagiarism.

Then, there is the aspect of drawing conclusions in which you need to balance the argument and any counter arguments to illustrate that you have considered all sides and perspectives on the issue. By incorporating what others have stated along with your own conclusion, you are showing the reader that you are balanced and objective about your research, illustrating your critical thinking.

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Chapter 7: In Summary

Before you start on the next phase of your dissertation, thesis, or research report, which by the way is note taking, here are some things to think about as you put the tips from this chapter into practice:

  • Cross-reference your material to make sure you know if related sources agree or disagree on any of the main points.
  • Consider the age of your source material as older sources are not necessarily wrong, but there may have also been newer findings. Yet, many concepts used in certain disciplines still resort back to theories that are much older.
  • Review and assess the quality of the author's citations to make sure the research is academic in nature.
  • Go beyond the presentation of the material and focus on the source's substance. Just because the website looks good or the article has subheadings does not mean it is academic and suitable for your research.
  • Focus on the language used in the source material to determine if they are being subjective or objective and look for any language that could mean personal opinion, propaganda, or some type of bias.
  • Be sceptical and detached from what you are reading so you can identify any issues with the content in terms of subjectivity or opinion being stated as fact.  This will also help you identify any types of flaws in the author's logic or any untruths in their argument.
  • Put this same scepticism and critical analysis to any statistics and numerical data because these can be slanted or presented in a way to draw certain conclusions when the numbers may actually say something to the contrary.
  • Look who else has cited the author's work to check their credibility. If they are cited by other academics, there is a good chance they are considered a specialist or expert on the subject matter.

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