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Art 305: Art & Mass culture

Evaluating sources

Whether in academic or professional life, we need to find credible sources and base our arguments on valid evidence.  When you are evaluating a source, look for clues by considering the Who, What, When, Where and Why of the source.

  1. Authority - Who wrote/published it? Is the author qualified to write on the topic? What are their credentials? Is the publisher an academic institution, or a scholarly or professional organization?

  2. Content - What is it about?  Is it relevant and accurate? Does the information relate to your topic or answer your research question?  Who is the intended audience?  Is the language geared toward those with knowledge of a specific discipline rather than the general public? Does the author back up their claims with evidence or opinion?  It’s ok to use sources that state opinion as long as you acknowledge it in your own work. 

  3. Timeliness - When was it published?  How current are the citations in the bibliography? How current does the information need to be for your topic or assignment?

  4. Source - Where did you find it?  Was it in a library database or Google Scholar?  If it’s from a website, what is the domain?  If a commercial website, who is running it and why? 

  5. Purpose - Why was it written (e.g. to inform, teach, entertain, persuade)? Are there any obvious biases?

Search tips

Background research

If you're having trouble coming up with keywords, try to do a little bit of background research on your topic first.  Try searching an encyclopedia to get a broad overview on your topic by searching an encyclopedia.

  • Wikipedia is another great place to start your research to get a broad over view of a topic, particularly contemporary art and artists.  Be aware that since it can be edited by anyone, not just scholars, it may contain erroneous and biased information about a topic.
Pro tip: check out the external references and links at the bottom of Wikipedia articles.  These often provide great leads and potential research sources you can cite.


Brainstorming keywords

Before you begin your search, compile a list of potential keywords related to your topic. For example, let's say you would like to find more information about propaganda in Ancient Rome.  You'll need to break your topic in to keywords and then brainstorm alternate keywords based on those. 

In this case, our keywords are:

  • propaganda
  • Ancient Rome

You may want to do some preliminary research to refine this topic and possibly find something more specific to search for such as:

  • People such as Augustus
  • Specific artworks like Augustus of Prima Porta
  • Types of art like busts, relief and sculpture 
  • Subject matter like women and war

Searching phrases

To search phrases or titles with multiple words, use quotation marks. Putting these terms in quotes means that the words will be searched as a phrase rather than each word separately. For example:

  • "Ara Pacis"
  • "Augustus of Prima Porta"

Narrowing & broadening your search

Combine keywords using the AND operator to narrow your topic. For example:

  • Propaganda AND Augustus

Combine keywords with synonyms using OR to broaden your search. For example:

  • "Ara Pacis" OR "Altar of Peace"

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