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INST 2730 - Session 1 - Reading

In today's session, we will focus on the act of reading and discuss points relating to information consumption and synthesis such as:

  • Author voice and positionality

  • Your own positionality as the reader of these texts

  • How authority is constructed and contextual

My goal by going over some of these concepts with you today is to:

  • Give you practice in reading different texts 

  • Elevate your ability to synthesize and reflect on course readings generally (and perhaps improve and make the reflective process in this course easier)

  • Demonstrate how scholarship is an ongoing conversation

  • Give you an idea of how to approach developing your voice within these conversations, and get you thinking about the types of resources you may use for the annotated bibliography assignment

Evaluating Information

Figure 1

Peter Steiner's Famous 1993 New Yorker Cartoon Illustrating an Issue Central to Information Evaluation

Note. From "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" [Cartoon], by P. Steiner, 1993, Wikimedia (

Evaluating Information

It is good to find lots of search results, but, in order to use information skilfully, you need to know how to evaluate that information to determine whether a specific resource is appropriate to use in a specific use case (i.e. for a specific assignment).

The phrase "evaluating information" actually stands in for a wide range of judgments that we make about information in many different contexts, whether those judgments are about relevance, timeliness, quality, etc.

Librarians have developed several different acronyms to help people remember useful criteria to use in information evaluation. One of my personal favourites is RADAR!

RADAR stands for





Reason for Creation

We can ask the following questions to help us assess each criterion:


  • Does this source fit my topic?

  • What is this source's intended audience?

    • Is that intended audience appropriate for my use case in this assignment?


  • Is/are the creator(s) of this source clearly identified or known to us?

  • How important is it in this use case to trust the source's creator(s)?

    • If it is important, why should we trust the source's creator(s)?

    • Is the source's creator credentialed or an expert in their field?


  • Is the creation or publication date of this source identified or known to us?

  • Is this source too old?


  • Do this source's facts "check out"?

  • Does the source have references of its own?

Reason for Creation (take your best guess at this question using judgments from earlier criteria):

  • Why was this source made?

  • Was this source made to sell a product or service, to inform/educate, to entertain, etc?

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

scholarly publication contains articles written by experts in a particular field. The primary audience of these articles is other experts.

Many of these publications are also referred to as "peer-reviewed," academic, or "refereed." They all mean essentially the same thing and refer to the editorial and publication process in which scholars in the same field review the research and findings before the article is published.


Scholarly / Peer-Reviewed

Popular / Not Scholarly (but possibly still credible!)


  • Expert

  • Journalist / professional writer

Review Process

  • Reviewed by an editorial board or other experts ("peers")

  • Reviewed by an editor

Audience /

  • Scholars and students

  • Technical language

  • General public

  • Easy to understand


  • Original research

  • Uses previously published literature for background

  • News and practical information

  • Uses a variety of sources for background 


  • Always cited

  • Sometimes cited


  • Peer-reviewed articles

  • Scholarly books

  • Literature reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses

  • Theses and dissertations

  • Magazine articles

  • Newspaper articles

  • Blog articles

  • Encyclopedias

  • Textbooks

  • Websites

  • Social media

Some Helpful Questions for Identifying a Scholarly/Academic Article

  1. What are the author’s credentials? Was it written by an expert?

  2. Was it published in a journal (is there a DOI?)? (If you are not sure if a source is a journal article, you can enter the title of the publication into Ulrichs Web to check.)

  3. Does it use academic or more technical language?

  4. Does it includes a reference list of sources that it is citing?

  5. How long is it? (Scholarly articles are typically longer than popular or news articles.)

  6. Does it have a "Received" and "Accepted" date on it?

  7. Is it an actual article? (Sometimes other types of content are included in scholarly publications, such as editorials/opinion pieces and book reviews. Make sure you are looking at an article.)

Tips for Reading Scholarly Articles

(Adapted from handouts by J. Loyer & M. MacMillan)

Check for relevance – is the article useful for what you’re doing? You will likely never find the perfect article that’s exactly on the topic you have in mind, but you will find ones that are close and useful because:

  • They provide background or context.

  • They provide theories that help you examine/understand a new situation.

  • They look at a similar group of people.

  • They look at similar situations.

  • They use methods that you could use to answer similar questions.

  • They apply techniques that could be useful in your situation.

  • They have useful bibliographies that direct you to even better materials.

Print out the article – research supports that reading comprehension increases when reading in print).

Skim to get the article's general idea – review introduction, headings, conclusion to see if the article will suit your needs.

Get comfortable and carve out a little time – reading for depth takes focus and practice, and you’ll probably have to read the article more than once.

Read with a pen in hand – mark up interesting points, odd words, and circle key concepts.

Read with a questioning spirit – engage in a dialogue with the piece’s author(s) – “really?” “prove it!” “are you sure about that?” – constantly question the author(s).

If possible, practice slow reading – summarize paragraphs as you go and read the article aloud to slow down.

Note unfamiliar words and concepts – look them up on your second read through.

Make connections as you go – note what the article reminds you of, what thoughts it provokes, how it matches or contradicts your experience – these connections are critical to your understanding of texts.

Draw things out – stats, tables, connections or relationships can make more sense if you diagram them.

Consider the article's approaches and limitations – if you started with the same question(s) as the author, how would you approach finding the answers? What’s missing from the article? What questions does it leave you with?

Discuss the article with others – students identified this as a very useful strategy for getting the most out of articles.

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

"Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the [user's] information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required." (Association of College and Research Libraries, Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, p. 12)


  • Speaking broadly, noone is inherently authoritative in contemporary social life (except perhaps for deities in some religious faiths). Instead, we have various systems of constructing, assigning, and granting authority. One of the most common of those systems is actually the university itself. Think about what the degrees and credentials earned in one's time at university say in broader society.

  • Different communities of people may elevate different types of authority, and it is important to sometimes remain skeptical of why that may be. For example, within the Flat Earth community, Edward Hendrie may be considered a possible authority.


  • Different people may be differently authoritative in different contexts. I may be a subject matter expert in one subject (library searching skills), but not another (entomology). Also, think about an eyewitness account of a major news event like a natural disaster or a crime. Eyewitness (or first-hand) accounts in such situations are granted a particular kind of authority.

Authority being constructed and contextual is related to Sensoy and DiAngelo's (2017) discussion of knowledge as being socially constructed: "By socially constructed, [Sensoy and DiAngelo] mean that all knowledge understood by humans is framed by the ideologies, language, beliefs, and customs of human societies" (p. 15).

As you advance through your education, you will be working on developing your own voice and also your own authority as a participant in the scholarly conversation. Part of becoming a more articulate and reflective participant in scholarly conversations is taking into account your own positionality and how it influences your understanding of issues.

According to Sensoy and DiAngelo (2017), "[p]ositionality is the concept that our perspectives are based on our place in society. Positionality recognizes that where you stand in relation to others shapes what you can see and understand" (p. 15).

Scholarship as Conversation

"Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations." (Association of College and Research Libraries, Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, p. 20)

  • Over time, as students and scholars write about a topic, the accumulation of writing becomes a scholarly conversation. With each writer, new insights and discoveries are documented over time, adding different perspectives and interpretations.

  • Referring to other essays, studies and reports and describing how they relate to your own work gives authority to your arguments. This is particularly important when people have different opinions about the topic you are addressing in your writing. 

  • Citing other researchers proves that you know what you are saying is relevant, since you’re placing your words in the context of the existing literature. If the topic you are writing about is subjective in nature, your reader knows you’ve consulted other research and your opinions are based on some consideration of the existing scholarly conversation on that topic and not solely on anecdotal evidence.

Source: From “Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students,” NCSU Libraries, (CC-BY-NC-SA license)

Reading Exercise

You all should have read this before today.  If not, please take a few minutes to open it up and re-orientate yourselves with the article.

Answer 2 of the following questions (whichever ones are most interesting to you):

  1. Summarize this article, what is it about?

  2. What positionality/perspectives are the authors writing from?

  3. What 2 questions do you have for the authors?

  4. What connections did you make while reading? (To other things you have learned, or to life experiences)

  5. What other scholarly conversations do these authors respond to? For example, what other scholars' work do they cite?

  6. What was the most challenging part of this piece of writing to understand? Why?

  7. After reading the article, did you have any questions left unanswered?


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Joel Blechinger
Phone: 403.440.8624
Office: EL4423E