Critical Thinking and the World of Information

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Introduction and Goals

Welcome to the tutorial, "Critical Thinking and the World of Information." This tutorial will introduce you to the academic research process and how to critically evaluate information sources. You will use a live internet browser on the right side of the screen while reading and following instructions in this column.

This tutorial takes you through the early stages of researching a current issue. Questions along the way will help you interact with the text and a quiz at the end will check your understanding. You will be able to email your quiz results, as well as your answers to the questions in the tutorial, to yourself and your instructor.

Most links in this grey box will open in the browser window on the right, but some will open a new browser window. Read the instructions to tell them apart. The sliding bars on the window's right and bottom sides will let you move around the browser frame.

Click the right arrow below to advance.

Introduction and Goals

By the time you complete this tutorial (it will take about an hour), you will understand better how to:

  • become familiar with a topic through exploring quality web resources
  • deepen your understanding with books from the library
  • catch up with current scholarly research on a topic

These skills will be useful every time you need to write a paper with sources at UST, or even when you wish to become a better-informed citizen. In addition, you will learn to take advantage of the rich library collections available to you as a UST student.

Introduction and Goals

  • Click here to open a survey in the window on the right.

Please complete the survey and then click submit. This will help introduce you to the skills of the tutorial, and provide valuable, anonymous information for developing the library instruction program. All these questions will be answered for you in the course of this tutorial.

Once you've clicked submit, click the right arrow below to continue.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

  • View this news release about how a UST professor, Nicole Casarez and her students helped secure the release of Anthony Graves, who served 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Please take five minutes or so and briefly read the piece. This case will not be the focus of our research, but the story is compelling and close to home. You may not have known that cases of wrongful conviction have become an important issue in Texas and elsewhere, and that students and other volunteers have been working to address this injustice.

For this sample research project, we will be working in the discipline of psychology to better understand why some persons have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes. We will start by using the website of an organization that pursues claims of wrongful conviction, the Innocence Project, to learn more about the ways evidence used in court can fail to reflect the truth about a crime. Click the right arrow below to advance.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

News articles, blogs, and social media postings can help you learn about unfamiliar issues. They usually do not assume you know very much about the topic, and don't take long to read. 

On the other hand, a lot of false and misleading information is shared through social media. Recently, this tutorial's author read a story about a giant meteor predicted to strike the Earth. The story was linked on Facebook, and users kept seeing the headline after the original story was withdrawn as false. Clearly, we must evaluate sources before we start to rely on their information content. Click the right arrow to advance.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

Whenever you use a website for information, you should think about who is behind the site, when it was last updated, why they created and maintain it, and how valid its content is. Generally speaking, a reliable site will always be straightforward about its sponsors, its currency, and its purposes. How well does hold up under these criteria?

Look at the brown and black tabs on top of this page. Which tab do you think will most efficiently give you information on this site's sponsors?

Click the right arrow to continue.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic


Scroll down the "About Us" page and click to a few of the linked pages (use the "About Us" button to return to that page). Look for information that helps reinforce the trustworthiness and authority of the site's sponsors. For example, you may recognize such members of the Board of Directors as novelist John Grisham, or the Texas State Senator from Houston, Rodney Ellis. The organization's demonstration of financial transparency also helps to establish its credibility.

Why might this website want to gain your trust as a visitor?

Click the right arrow to advance.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic


In addition to being clear about their sponsors, reliable websites tend to update frequently. Try to find evidence on the Innocence Project site that it has been recently updated (hint: try the News and Events tab).


Websites always have purposes for communicating to their audience. Many websites have commercial interests which can affect their reliability. Is the website giving a certain message in order to increase sales of some product? Is the website filled with distracting advertisements?

The Innocence Project is a non-profit organization, as shown by its ".org" URL. It is affiliated with Yeshiva University in New York City and has a clear mission to benefit the wrongly convicted. However, many ".org" sites are affiliated with corporations and other organizations operating with a commercial or other type of bias. For example, the "consumer site" is funded by the American Meat Institute (; these sites will open in a new window), which advances the commercial interests of the meat industry. Sometimes you need to dig to find the sponsors of information and their interests!

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic


The depth and quality of a website's content is another important indicator of its reliability. For a sample of the Innocence Project site's informational content:

Briefly read through this page. If you wish, you may view the video; however, note that it deals with an experience of sexual assault and may be troubling to some viewers.

As you review the page, pay special attention to the way sources are highlighted and linked from the text. Also look through the hyperlinked list of Resources at the bottom of the page.

Click the right arrow to continue.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

The Eyewitness Misidentification page seems designed to give you a summary and overview of complex information in a way that is readily understood and trusted. Findings of numerous scientific studies are boiled down to revealing examples and suggested reforms. In addition, links are provided to published studies, further adding to the site's authority. 

Sources like this page, that interpret and summarize information, are useful for gaining understanding about an issue, and for directing researchers to primary sources such as scientific studies. As a university student, you would be expected to follow the trail to primary sources so that you can judge the evidence and reasoning behind the page's conclusions. 

How do you find helpful pages like this one? A search engine like Google is one answer, but the way search engines work does not always lead to good results for researchers. Click the right arrow to learn more.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

As an interesting exercise with Google:

  • Go to this page, which contains an embedded Google search box. Search: wrongful convictions. A new window will open with search results.

You will see that The Innocence Project is one of the top results for this search. Does this high ranking mean that The Innocence Project is a reliable source? 

Close the page of search results. Then try this:

  • In the embedded Google search box, search: Martin Luther King.

One of the top results, named "Martin Luther King Jr. - A True Historical Examination" and located at, is actually a white supremacist website with very biased and negative views of King and the Civil Rights movement in general (please consider not clicking on this link, since site visits may help to further increase the site's ranking as a search result).

What can we conclude from these examples?

Google's search rankings are determined by a site's quality as an information resource.

Web Resources: Becoming Familiar with a Topic

To review: sponsors, currency, purposes and content are crucial issues to consider when using information from the web. Some websites are clearly biased and unreliable. But even when websites present reliable information, researchers may need to go beyond them to access and evaluate primary sources.

As you go further in your investigation of a topic, you will want to use sources with more depth and evidence than many websites provide. For the next part of this tutorial, we will learn about a method of deepening our knowledge that is both old-fashioned and cutting-edge: reading books. Click the right arrow to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

Far from obsolete, books can be an important and useful source of information in many fields. In fact, access to current academic books in print and online is one of your key library privileges.

In this section of the tutorial, we will learn about the structure and format of academic books, and how to find both print books and e-books in the library catalog to get a deeper understanding of our topic. Click the right arrow below to continue.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

  • Go to the library home page:
  • Access library research resources by clicking "Research".
  • Review the three "Research Resources at Doherty Library." 

Which resource do you think will help you find books?

Please do not click the catalog button yet (or a new window will open). Click the right arrow to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

  • Enter the library catalog by clicking here (NOTE: clicking the catalog button on the webpage will cause a new window to open).

Let's try one example. A well-known book in the movement to overturn wrongful convictions is titled, Actual Innocence. To see if we have this book:

  • click the down arrow next to "General Keyword"
  • select: "Title begins with"
  • type in the search box: actual innocence
  • click the search arrow

Is this book owned by Doherty Library?

Click the right arrow to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

What if you don't know a book's title or author? What if you want a book on a topic?

It's time to learn about keywords.

Keywords are important words and phrases from your research topic. Titles and descriptions of books and other resources you want will probably contain these words and phrases.

The library catalog is basically a database of book descriptions (title, author, subject, etc.). When you search your keywords in the library catalog, you are requesting a list of all the catalog's book descriptions, or records, that contain your keywords. 

Try it!

  • Go back to the Basic Search page. 
  • Leave the drop-down list at General Keyword. 
  • Enter the search:

innocent AND conviction

  • Click the red search button.

With the "AND", you are telling the catalog you want only records with BOTH of these words.

If you had searched, innocent OR conviction, do you think you would have gotten:

Click the right arrow below to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

This catalog record gives you basic information on the book and its contents. A few things to notice:

  • The book is published by the American Psychological Association, the major U.S. professional association of psychologists.
  • The year of publication is 2012.
  • The book has a call number, giving you its exact location on the library's shelves 
  • The table of contents lists different authors for each chapter

Why all the authors? This book is an edited collection, or anthology, that gathers together experts in different aspects of this topic to each write a chapter in their area of focus. For example, Gary L. Wells (chapter 8) is a known expert in problems of eyewitness misidentification (A professor at Iowa State University, he also has lots of material on his home page here (NOTE: site will open in new window)). 

Edited collections can be great starting places for research, because each chapter gives you an expert's overview of a specific subtopic. At this stage, understanding how your topic is organized, and how to focus your research on a specific subtopic, are essential steps.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

This time, scroll down to the ebook record, Convicting the Innocent [electronic resource]: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong by Brandon Garrett. We also have the print version of this book, so be sure to find the "electronic resource" listing.

Unlike the previous book, this is a book by a single author (known as a monograph). This book is available electronically through the library's e-book holdings.

If you are off campus, you will be asked to log in with your CeltID and password; please do so so that you can access the online book. Click the right arrow below to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

This is a complete scanned version of Convicting the Innocent on our Ebrary platform, with the same text as the print version in our collection. The Ebrary platform allows you to read online, copy and paste, print, or temporarily download the book; you can also download Ebrary books to read using Adobe Digital Editions or the Bluefire Reader mobile app.

Look at the table of contents. Now is a good time to point out several features of academic books in general:

  • You can often benefit from reading single, focused chapters instead of the whole book
  • The index helps you pinpoint information on specific topics
  • Notes and reference lists can direct you to more resources, such as books, articles and online data sets (click to see the data used for this book; site will open in new window)

In short, use the book's organizational features to find the information you need. The book is designed to help you read more efficiently. 

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

Many aspects of the library can seem mysterious at first, such as where to look for journals, or how to find books on the shelves.

Remember that you can always get help at the library. 

  • Click here to go to Ask Us, the reference librarian homepage:

Reference librarians answer library users' questions, consult with them on research projects, teach library class sessions and develop online learning materials to help you get more out of the library. The Ask Us page gives you several ways of asking questions and getting in touch with librarians. You can:

  • type a question in the box and find an answer online 
  • call, email, chat, text or tweet a librarian
  • visit a librarian during the posted hours (no appointment needed!)
Try writing a question in the question box, such as, how do I find a book using a call number? Or try selecting one of the "featured questions".
One more resource for do-it-yourself-ers: The Doherty Library Research Guides! Take a look:
These guides link you to the best library and web resources for numerous subjects. We also have citation style guides for MLA, APA and Chicago styles. Always check the Research Guide in your subject when you start a project!
Click the right arrow below to advance.

Books: Deepening Our Knowledge

To review, books can be a highly useful and efficient resource for advancing your project. The library has large numbers of print and ebooks that can help you understand both how your topic is defined and how it breaks down into more focused subtopics. 

Finding a subtopic to focus on can be a crucial step in the research process. Then, once you have developed your focus, it's probably time to get up to speed on the latest research. Journal articles are usually focused, specialized and advanced, helping to move forward the state of the field. Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

When you do research at the university level, you start to see how the state of scholarly knowledge advances in the style of an ongoing conversation. Scholars work to advance our understanding of specific topics and then publish their findings for other scholars to debate, verify and advance from.

This "conversation" can be hard to follow if you don't already know a lot about your topic. It's even harder to make an original, significant contribution of your own.

For our purposes, we'll focus on how to find the articles you need to catch up with the current discussions in your field. Click the right arrow below to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

  • Click here to see a scholarly article published in the online journal, PLoS One.

This article describes a study in which a sample of the general public answered questions about how they think memory works. Then, memory experts answered the same questions. For every question, the public's ideas about memory were very different from the research-based conceptions of the experts. This difference could support the argument that "common sense" understandings of eyewitness identification might not be scientifically valid.

Look through this article using the browser's scrolling bar. Find the following headings and briefly scan the contents under each of them:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results and Discussion
  • Caveats [the study's limitations]
  • Conclusion
  • References

Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

Now look again at the Caveats subsection. In scientific research, the weaknesses and limits of the experiment are supposed to be admitted and explained in the article. Unlike other types of discussions, the scholarly conversation should not be about "winning" the debate but making careful, verifiable progress towards new knowledge.

Would you expect to find "caveats," or statements about the limitations of a study, on a website whose main purpose is persuasion?

Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

Next, scroll down to the article's References list.

Scholarly publications always give citations to specific sources, so that readers can look up those sources for themselves. The references list also gives readers a record of the scholarly conversation-- these are the "voices" that this article responds to. You can use the information in the references list to look up books, articles and websites related to your topic (to learn how, see the featured answers on the Ask Us page, for example, how to look up the full text of an article; the links will open in a new window). Click the right arrow to advance.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

Next, let's return to the very top of the page.

In the blue banner for PLoS One, it says that this is "A Peer-Reviewed, Open Access Journal." What do those two terms mean?

Peer review is a defining feature of a scholarly journal. Articles submitted to a peer reviewed journal are not simply approved by an editor. Instead, editors judge whether the article fits the journal's criteria. If it does, they send the article to fellow scholars (called peer reviewers or "referees") who carefully criticize and check the article's validity and significance. Most articles are then either sent back to the authors for revision or rejected outright. This publication process can last for several months to more than a year. Peer review has developed over time to become the scholarly community's standard method for ensuring the quality of its publications.

Open access means that this journal is freely available online for anyone to read. Instead of charging subscription fees, these journals sometimes charge the authors who publish in them, or are supported by an organization.

Are all scholarly journals open access?

Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

UST's libraries subscribe to thousands of scholarly journals, primarily through online databases. These databases can help you find articles on very specific topics. Most databases focus on one general subject area. To see the library's list of databases:

As you can see, the library gives you access to numerous databases. But with an alphabetical list, it can be hard to choose the best ones for your research. To see the databases grouped by subject area:

Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

Now, with the Databases by Subject list, we can ask the question, where can I find psychological studies on eyewitness identification issues?

  • Click on Psychology in the list of subjects.

Now, move your mouse over the names of the databases to get a sense of their contents (you may need to use the bottom sliding bar to see the descriptions).

Usually, the best database to start with for general psychology research is PsycInfo, which is combined here with PsycArticles. 

  • Click this PsycInfo link (not the one in the browser, which will open a new window). If you are asked to log in with your CeltID and password, please do so.

Click the right arrow to continue.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

This is the Advanced Search page for PsycInfo.

The three boxes on top are where you will enter your search terms. Notice that each box is connected with AND. Entering keywords in these boxes will help focus your results, as we will see.

Next, review the options under "Limit your results." These limits give additional options for focusing your results.

Find the places on the page where you can set these limits for peer-reviewed journals and for publication year or published date. These are probably the most important limits to remember. Then click the right arrow to advance.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

  • In the first search box, type the word: witnesses. Then click Search.

    How many results did you get?

  • In the second search box, type the word: memory. Then click Search. You are now searching for witnesses AND memory.

    Did you get more or fewer results after adding the keyword with AND?

  • Change the entry in the second search box to: memory OR recall. Then click Search.

    Did adding an alternate keyword with OR lead to more or fewer results?

  • Now read down the left column. In the "Limit To" section, check out the publication date range-- some of these articles are pretty old! You can narrow the date range by moving the slider or entering different years in the boxes.
  • Next, again in the "Limit To" section, check the box next to "Peer-reviewed." Now all your results will come from scholarly journals. 

How do you think you could narrow your results further?


Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

  •  Click on one of the blue article titles to view the article record. Scroll down to view the whole record.

As you can see, many aspects of the article are coded and described in this database. When you need to do advanced research for your classes, these database features will become very useful for you (for example, by narrowing your article search by age group, or by looking for uses of a particular psychological test). 

Many database records contain a link to "PDF Full Text" (check the left margin). This is a digital copy of the article, which you can download and keep. For articles without links to full text, click the red UST "Check Availability" button to see if a copy of the article is available from another source, such as a different database.

If the library does not have a copy of the article, you can request one from another library through Interlibrary Loan (see the Doherty Library Services page; the link will open in a new window). 

Click the right arrow to advance.

Journal Articles: Finding the Latest Research

Next, look on the right side of the article record, the "Tools" menu (you may need to use the bottom sliding bar to see it). These tools will help you to:

  • email the article record and full text
  • get a "permanent" link to the article
  • create an automatic citation in various formats. Note that citations generated by computer are often imperfect and must be proofread.
  • "Export" the article record to RefWorks. RefWorks is a cloud-based bibliographic management system that saves and formats your citations for you. Sign up for a free account on the Doherty Library Research page (NOTE: link will open in a new window).

Always look for "subjects" and other keywords in the article record; these are often the best terms to use in future searches. Also, once you have found an article that is relevant for your research, don't forget to review the list of references in the article itself.

Finding all the relevant sources on a topic can be quite complicated. You usually have to try out multiple sources and strategies. This process takes time, and should not be left to the last minute.

Click the right arrow to conclude this tutorial.


This tutorial has given you a sense of the research process at UST. The library makes available vast resources to help you write insightful papers and even perform original research. Reference librarians are here to help you navigate those resources and succeed in your research projects.

Following this slide is the tutorial's quiz. After completing it, you can email your quiz results, as well as the results of the questions in the tutorial, to yourself and your instructor. You can also leave feedback on the tutorial-- we value your perspective!

Your quiz and question results will be sent automatically to an account monitored by the Doherty Library librarians, who will use the results anonymously and only for purposes of statistics and evaluation (for example, to improve the tutorial. If you wish the librarians to delete the record of your results, please contact them at 

Thank you for completing this tutorial! Click the right arrow to access the quiz.


Quiz: Critical Thinking and the World of Information

The saying that scholarship is like a conversation means:

What does it mean when an article is peer-reviewed and open-access?

True or false: students should assume that books are irrelevant as research resources in the 21st century.

Which of the following are not part of the standard structure of a scholarly article in the social sciences?

True or false: nearly all scholarly journal articles are freely available on the web.

True or false: Google's search results are ranked according to a secret computer program that typically does not take account of a site's reliability or authority.

Which one of the following is not a sign that a website is reliable?

What is the difference between using AND and OR to add keywords to a database search?

True or false: In the research process, any book you use is expected to be read cover to cover.

True or false: The library provides only summarized, shortened versions of books in its ebook holdings.


Please enter your name and email address to retrieve a copy of your completed quiz.

You can enter multiple email addresses separated by commas. If you are doing this for a class, you may need to enter your instructor's email address also.