Saturday, December 2, 2006

Evaluating Print Sources

Evaluating Print Sources


Enough resources are needed to:

Support your argument

Include a variety of viewpoints and materials


Variety is necessary. Include many different resources.

Primary Sources

Contemporary accounts of an event and original documents

Examples: letters, diaries, audio-recordings of speeches, newspaper articles
Secondary Resources

Retrospective sources based on primary resources; include scientific or scholarly analysis
Examples: books, articles, editorials, reviews, scientific studies

Date of Publication

When was the source published? Remember the Information Timetable. Depending on the topic of research different materials from different time periods will be used.

Current Events ResearchUse resources that are recent and reflect current attitudes.

Historical ResearchUse a variety of resources from different time periods including both Primary and Secondary resources.

Quality and Reliability

When choosing your resources, the most difficult task is determining their quality and reliability.
This is particularly problematic when a source is found through the Internet. Some factors to think about when assessing the quality and reliability of a publication are:

What is the tone?

Who is the intended audience?

What is the purpose of the publication?

What assumptions does the author make?

What are the bases of the author's conclusions?

Does the author agree or disagree with other authors of the subject?

Does the content agree with what you know or have learned about the issue?

To help determine this, it might also help to look over the source's documentation and read some reviews of the source.

Additional Resources

Does the source provide other leads?

Documentation (i.e., footnotes and bibliography)

Provides additional resources

Substantiates the author's research

Cramer, Steven. "Part 6: Evaluating Sources." Guide to Library Research. 22 January 2001. Duke Unisversity. 15 Nov 2006 .

Friday, December 1, 2006

Evaluating Web Pages

Evaluating Web Pages for Credibility


Who wrote the page?

Look for the author's name near the top or the bottom of the page. If you can't find a name, look for a copyright credit (©) or link to an organization.

What are the author's credentials?

Look for biographical information or the author's affiliations (university department, organization, corporate title, etc.).

Can you verify the author's credentials? Could the credentials be made up?

Anyone who has visited a chat room knows that people don't always identify themselves accurately.

Did the author include contact information?

Look for an email link, address, or phone number for the author. A responsible author should give you the means to contact him/her.

Whose web site is this?What organization is sponsoring the web page?

Look at the domain (.com, .edu, .org, etc.).

Look for an "about this site" link.

Also look for a tilde (~) in the URL, which usually identifies a personal directory on a web site.

Be careful of a web page that has a tilde in its URL.

Internet service provider sites (AOL, Mindspring, MSN, etc.) and online community sites (GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire, etc.) feature personal pages. Be careful of web pages from those sites, too.

Example of the need to verifythe author's credentials

Example of the need to considerwho's sponsoring the site

Purpose/intended audience

What is the purpose of the page? Why did the author create it?

The purpose could be advertising, advocacy, news, entertainment, opinion, fandom, scholarship, satire, etc.

Some pages have more than one purpose. For example, provides free business information but also encourages you to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal or other Dow Jones products.

Who is the target audience?

academic researchers? kids? buyers of competitors' products? trekkers? political extremists?

Look at reading level of the page: is it easy to read or challenging? Does it assume previous knowledge of the subject?

Consider the design of the web page: are there banner ads and animated GIF's, or does the page present a lot of text with little decoration?

Example of the need to consider the intended audience, especially if you are researching a topic like ethnic stereotypes in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.


Is there a date at the top or bottom of the page?

But note: a recent date doesn't necessarily mean the information is current. The content might be years out of date even if the given date is recent. (The last update of the page might have consisted of someone changing an email address or fixing a typo.)

Is the information up-to-date?

This takes a little more time to determine. Compare the information on the web page to information available through other sources. Broken links are one measure of an out-of-date page.

In general, information for science, technology, and business ages quickly. Information in the humanities and social sciences ages less quickly. However, old information can still be perfectly valid.

Example of the need tocheck for currency

Objectivity v. bias

Is the author being objective or biased?

Biased information is not necessarily "bad", but you must take the bias into account when interpreting or using the information given.

Look at the facts the author provides, and the facts the author doesn't provide.

Are the facts accurately and completely cited?

Is the author fair, balanced, and moderate in his or her views, or is the author overly emotional or extreme?

Based on the author's authority, try to identify any conflict of interest.

Determine if the advertising is clearly separated from the objective information on the page.

Example of the blurring of advertising and objective information


Does the author support the information he or she uses?

Look for links or citations to sources. Some academic web pages include bibliographies.

Is the support respectable?

Does the page cite well-known sources or authorities?

Does the page cite a variety of sources?

Do other pages on the same topic cite some of the same sources?

The web page in question should have a mix of internal links (links to web pages on the same site or by the same author) and external links (links to other sources or experts).

If a web page makes it hard for you to check the support, be suspicious.

Example of the need to check the cited sources

Is the web the right place to do your research?

Some kinds of information are not available on the free web. Also, some kinds of information are easier to find using library resources.


literary criticism (begin with a literature database like the MLA Bibliography or the Literature Resource Center.)

industry analysis (a business database like S&P NetAdvantage makes it simple to find detailed, authoritative reports on industries.)

public opinion polls (while there are some good sources for polls on the web for free, the best way to begin is using the polls and public opinion section of Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe.)

So don't overlook library resources, whether online (like databases and ejournals) or in print.

Cramer, Steven. "Part 6: Evaluating Sources, Web Pages." Guide to Library Research. 14 July 2003. Duke Unisversity. 1 Nov 2006 .

Searching for Information

Dewey Decimal System

Most of the libraries use the Dewey system. Dewey is a hierarchical classification system that divides humanity's knowledge, ideas, and artistic creations into ten major categories spanning a range from 000 to 999.

The hierarchical nature of the Dewey system makes browsing books possible.

A book's call number includes more than a Dewey number, so write down the complete call number of the books you want to find.

Online Catalog

The Duke Online Catalog is your gateway to finding books (as well as journals, electronic resources, videos, and more).

You can search the catalog in six ways: Author, Title, Subject Heading, Keyword, Call Number, or ISBN and other numbers.

The yellow boxes on the catalog's various search screens provide basic information and sample searches.

Online Catalog Records

After performing a search that finds some materials, you will see a short record containing basic information.

To see the full record, select the link. The full record provides more information and more search choices.

For example, you can select an author's name to see all the books Duke has by that author. You call also select a subject heading to see all the materials Duke has on that subject.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

When you search the online catalog by subject, you must use a Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) or a Medical Subject Heading (MeSH). The library assigns subject headings to all items listed in the online catalog. This makes it easy to find books on the same topics or related topics.

Subject headings are listed in a five-volume manual called simply Library of Congress Subject Headings ("the big red books"). Sometimes you can guess the appropriate subject headings, but it's wise to check the manual to be sure. Reference librarians can help you, too.

Library of Congress Subject Headings
A Subject Search Shortcut

Using Other Libraries

Links are available on the Catalogs page.

Found something that Duke doesn't have? Fill out an interlibrary loan request form. Perkins Library's Interlibrary Loan department will borrow materials for you from other libraries.
Another possibility is using the other university libraries in the Triangle area: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University (Raleigh), and North Carolina Central University (Durham). You can use your Duke Card to check out books at these three universities yourself. The Catalogs page provides easy access to their online catalogs.
Cramer, Steven. "Part 5: Searching for Information." Guide to Library Research. 06 March 2001. Duke Unisversity. 1 December 2006

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Selecting Resources: Information Timeline

Selecting Appropriate Resources: Timeline & Credibility

The World Wide Web--Most Immediate, Publishing Hourly

Time Frame: Immediately - several years after the event
Audience: General public - scholars, researchers, and students
Authorship: General public - scholars, researchers, and students
Content: General overview - detailed analysis
Length: One screen with few links - many screens with several links


CNN Interactive (
JAMA HIV/AIDS Information Center ( Weekly (

Why consult a world wide web page?
Immediate coverage of an event
Access to information that is not available in print format
Sometimes more detailed coverage
Sometimes additional resources from footnotes and bibliography
Statistics, Graphs & Charts may be available

How to Find World Wide Web Pages

Evaluating Web-Pages for Credibility

Evaluating Online Resources Notebook by UIS Professor Ray Schroeder
Evaluating Web Resources by Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate, Wolfgram Memorial Library, Widener University
How to Evaluate a Web Page from Colorado State University.
Teaching Undergrads Web Evaluation by Jim Kapoun, in College & Research Libraries News (July/August 1998)
Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources by Esther Grassian, UCLA College Library

Newspapers--Relatively Immediate, Publishing Daily

Time Frame: One day - one week after the event
Audience: General Public
Authorship: Reporters
Content: Summary or overview of the event;basic factual information coveringwho, what, where, when, and how
Length: Brief


The New York Times;
The Washington Post;
The Raleigh News and Observer

Why consult a newspaper?
Statistical information
Local news coverage
Immediate news coverage

How to Find Newspapers

Popular Magazines--Immediate, In-Depth, Publishing Weekly

Time Frame: 1 week - 1 month after the event
Audience: General Public
Authorship: Journalists
Content: General Overview; summary of the eventcovering who, what, where, when, howand starting to analyze why
Length: 1-5 pages


National Geographic

Why consult a popular magazine?
Statistical information
General overview of a current event; more detailed analysis than a newspaper
Public opinion

How to Find Magazines

Determining the difference between popular magazines vs. scholarly journals.

Scholarly Journals: Intermittent, Monthly, Quarterly

Time Frame: Several months - years after the event
Audience: Scholars, researchers, and students
Authorship: Scholars and researchers
Content: Research; theories; study and experimental results;and analysis
Length: Many pages (usually over 5 pages)

Journal of Child Development;
Journal of the American Medical Association;
American Quarterly, etc.

Why consult a scholarly journal?
More in depth examination of a subject
Additional resources from footnotes and

How to Find Scholarly Journals

Determining the difference between popular magazines vs. scholarly journals.

Reference Sources: Encyclopedias, Handbooks

Time Frame: Several months - years after the event
Audience: General Public- specialists
Authorship: Scholars and specialists
Content: General Overview
Length: Varies among sources

Dictionary of Art;
Encyclopedia of the American West;American Decades; etc.

Why consult a reference resource?
Background information

Additional resources - bibliographies

How to Find Reference Resources and Background Information

Books--Published Yearly, Extended Time After Event

Time Frame: At least 1 year - several years after the event
Audience: General public - scholars, researchers, and students
Authorship: Scholars and researchers
Content: Detailed analysis; sometimes a compilation ofarticles from several scholars
Length: Numerous pages - often over 100 pages

Negotiating Difference;The Press of Ideas;
Women, Art and Society

Why consult a book?
Detailed analysis of a subject
Multiple viewpoints often portrayed - especially in a compilation of articles
Additional resources found in footnotes and

How to Find Books

Cramer, Steven. "Part 4: Selecting Resources." Guide to Library Research. 14 July 2003. Duke University. 25 Nov 2006

Evaluating Your Sources for Credibility
Critically Analyzing Information Sources (Cornell University)
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask (UC Berkeley)
Evaluating Web Resources (Jan Alexander and Marsha Ann Tate, Widener University)
Evaluating Web Sites (The Ohio State University)
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluation Web Sources (Susan E. Beck, New Mexico State University)

Further Reading

Ciolek, T.M. (1996). The six quests for the electronic grail: Current approaches to information quality in WWW resources. Retrieved 30 October 2004 from

Standler, R.B. (2004, May 25). Evaluating credibility of information on the Internet. Retrieved 30 October 2004 from

Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. (2004). The web credibility project. Retrieved 30 October 2004 from

Tillman, H.N. (2003, March). Evaluating quality on the net. Retrieved 30 October 2004 from

Saturday, November 18, 2006

DAILY ORAL LANGUAGE: ACT Preparation--Grammar, Usage & Mechanics & Rhetorical Skills Quiz 3

Daily Oral Language Assignments

Each day of Mr. McLaughlin's English 10B Class will begin with a short "sponge" activity. On some days we will begin with the ACT preparation assignments like the ones listed in this entry.

On other days we will be working with ACT/SAT Vocabulary words. For your convenience & for your study, these are being posted here for your convenience and to study for our in class quizzes.

Your learning of this material will be covered on our quizzes. We will have a quiz each two weeks.

The following Daily Oral Language Lessons will be scheduled following break.

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.1 Day 11.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.2 Day 12.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.3 Day 13.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.4 Day 14.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.5 Day 15.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.6 Day 16.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.7 Day 17.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.8 Day 18.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.9 Day 19.doc

ACT Test Preparation, Passage II.10 Day 20.doc

Friday, November 17, 2006

Refining a Topic


Introduction Narrowing a Topic Broadening a Topic


Once you have found some background information, you can refine your broad research topic into a narrow, focused topic. The sooner you can develop a broad subject into a focused topic, the sooner you can shape your research into a finished paper.

On the other hand, if your subject is too focused or detailed, you may have a hard time finding enough sources to write an acceptable paper. In this case, to need to broaden your topic.
If you need assistance refining your topic, please consult any reference librarian/librarian.


A topic that covers too much material is a common problem for students. Depending on your interests, a general topic can be focused in many ways. For example, if you want to do a paper on government funding of the arts, consider the following questions:

What do you already know about this subject?

Is there a specific time period you want to cover?

Is there a geographic region or country on which you would like to focus?

Is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? For example, public policy

implications, historical influence, sociological aspects, psychological angles, specific groups or individuals involved in the topic, etc.

Topic Narrowing:

General Topic
Government funding of the arts

Time Span


Event or Aspects
New Deal, painting

Narrowed Topic Sentence
Federal funding of painters through New Deal programs and the Works Progress

Boolean Searching

The logical operators AND and NOT can be used in database searches to narrow a search statement. For more information, consult Electronic Searching.

Using the Online Catalog to Narrow a Topic:

Sometimes the online catalog can give you some ideas for narrowing a topic. Many subject headings in the catalog are broken down into subheadings that define geographical locations, material types, or specific aspects of a topic. Some subject headings also have Search also under or See also notes and links that identify other related or narrower subjects.

Starting a subject heading search with a general topic may be a good way to discover related subject headings and more narrow elements of a topic.

Subdivisions of a subject headings are also useful for identifying more specific elements
of a topic.

Topics that are too narrow are fairly simple to fix. Think of parallel and broader associations for your subject to find a broader topic that will be easier to research. Sometimes a topic may be too new and sources to your research questions may not yet exist.

For example, if you want to do a paper on the effect of deforestation on Colombia's long-term ability to feed its citizens, consider the following questions:

Could you examine other countries or regions in addition to Colombia?

Could you think more broadly about this topic? Give thought to wider topics like agriculture and sustainable development.

Who are the key players in this topic? The government? Citizens? International organizations?

What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, how can natural resources be allocated most economically to sustain the populace of Colombia?

Topic Broadening:

Specific Topic

What is the effect of deforestation on Columbia’s long-term ability to feed its citizens?

Alternative Focus

Agriculture, sustainable development

Alternative Place

South America

Alternative Person or Group

United Nations and its subgroups

Alternative Event or Aspect

Birth Control

Broadened Topic Sentence

How can the United Nations encourage South American countries to employ sustainable development practices?

Boolean Searching

The logical operator OR can be used in online database searches to broaden a search statement. For more information, consult Electronic Searching.

Using the Online Catalog to Broaden a Topic:

The online catalog may suggest other terms that are related to a subject heading. These terms show up when you click on "about" after a subject heading. This link will take you to a scope note that defines what kinds of materials are cataloged under that heading. Often links to broader terms can be found within these scope notes.

This term represents a broader aspect of the original search term.

Cramer, Steven. "Refining a Topic." Guide to Library Research. 1 November 2002. Duke University. 17 Nov 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Finding Background Information: Beginning Research


General Encyclopedias
Specialized/Subject Specific Encyclopedias
Specialized/Subject Specific Dictionaries
Articles from Full-Text Databases

Biographical Sources
Other Sources via the Catalog
How to Use These Sources Most Effectively

A good way to begin your research is to locate and read short articles that will give you a broad overview of a topic. You can find these articles in a variety of reference materials. Also, these resources often provide bibliographies -- lists of books and articles that will allow you to discover what else is available on a subject.


Since they are designed to cover all branches of knowledge, general encyclopedias are likely to have some information on every topic. They are often good sources to consult first, since they introduce the main concepts about a subject and suggest other sources that may be helpful.
Most libraries have a variety of general encyclopedias in the 030 call number area. If your topic involves international issues and you can read another language, consider looking at one of the many encyclopedias published in other countries.

Finding general encyclopedias requires only that you do a subject heading search for "encyclopedias and dictionaries." However, to make sure you are retrieving records for the most up-to-date publications, it is wise to limit your search to items published in this decade. For example:

Here are some examples of titles you will retrieve from this search:

The World Book Encyclopedia.
Lilly Reference 031 W927, 2000

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (also available online).
Perkins Reference 031 N532, 1998


Specialized or subject-specific encyclopedias provide more detailed articles written by experts in a field. There are hundreds of specialized encyclopedias. Bibliographies in these sources tend to be more comprehensive than bibliographies in general encyclopedias.
To locate encyclopedias for specific subjects, do a subject heading search in the online catalog for your subject followed by the word "encyclopedias." For example, if you wanted to find encyclopedias for psychology, your search would look like this:

From this search you can expect to find the following source among the several records this search retrieves:

Encyclopedia of Psychology.
Perkins Reference 150.3 E56, 2000

Here are other examples of subject-specific encyclopedias:

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science & Technology.
Perkins Reference 503 M147, 1997
Lilly Reference 503 M147, 1997

Encyclopaedia Judaica.
Perkins Reference 296.03 E56
Divinity Reference 296.03 E56


Technical and discipline-specific definitions not listed in general dictionaries may be available in subject-specific dictionaries. Definitions in these types of dictionaries are usually more detailed than those found in standard dictionaries; many subject-specific dictionaries resemble encyclopedias more than traditional dictionaries. Illustrations and bibliographic references are common.

To find dictionaries for special subjects, try a subject heading search for your subject followed by the term "dictionaries":

This search will find sources like the following:

A Dictionary of Architecture
Lilly Reference 720.3 C975, D554, 1999

A Short Dictionary of Architecture, Including Some Common Building Terms.
Perkins Reference 720.3 W268S
Lilly Reference 720.3 W268S

International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture
Lilly 720.9 I61, 1993


Almanacs are filled with up-to-date answers to all kinds of questions. Whether you are looking for basic statistics on state funding of welfare programs or recent winners of the Stanley Cup, you are likely to find the information in an almanac. They provide figures, charts, tables, and statistics.

Do a subject heading search in the online catalog for "almanacs." Limit your search to serial publications. You can then choose from geographic subdivisions, or browse "almanacs,

"American" for example.

Some good standard almanacs include:

World Almanac and Book of Facts.
Perkins Reference 317.73 W927
Lilly Ready Reference 317.73 W927A

The Time Almanac (formerly the Information Please Almanac)
Perkins Reference 317.3 I43

Whitaker's Almanack.
Perkins Reference 314.2 W478 (latest)

Next latest Lilly Reference


Handbooks supply concise factual information like charts, formulas, tables, statistical data, and historical background. Because they are updated frequently, handbooks include information about new developments. References to additional information are usually included.

Handbooks can be found in the catalog by doing a subject heading search for your topic plus the term "handbooks."

For example, the Duke Libraries owns several physics handbooks:

The Physics Quick Reference Guide.
Vesic Reference 530 C678, P578, 1996

Handbook of Physical Quantities.
Vesic Reference 530.0212 H236, 1997


Sometimes articles in newspapers or general interest periodicals (Newsweek, Time, National Geographic, etc.) can provide a quick overview of a subject. Use one of the library's full text databases to find such articles.

Keep in mind that articles you find in these resources should be viewed as the beginning -- and not necessarily the end -- of your research. Searches in general periodical indexes may also provide you with an idea of what kinds of articles are being written about a subject.
For more information about locating articles in periodicals, see Finding Journal and Magazine Articles and Finding Newspaper Articles.


Sometimes you may want to learn something about a person without having to read a full-length biography. The Duke Libraries own several biographical reference works that provide relatively brief articles about thousands of people. You can always expect to find something about the most famous people. It should also be possible to find something about fairly obscure people.
Most of the biographical reference works are cataloged by country and the subdivision "biography--dictionaries." For example, to find a source for biographies of U.S. citizens, you would do a subject heading search that looks like this:

Here is a list of some of the most useful biographical reference works. There is also a list of biographical databases.

Dictionary of American Biography [1928].
Perkins Reference 920.07 J66DLilly Reference 920 D554A

Who's Who in America.
Perkins Reference Desk 920.07 L581
Lilly Reference 920 W628AD

Dictionary of National Biography: the concise dictionary.
Perkins Reference 920.042 D554AB
Lilly Reference 920 D554NCb

Encyclopedia of World Biography.
Perkins Reference 920.003 E56, 1998

New York Times Biographical Service.
Perkins Reference q 920.02 N567
Lilly Reference 920 N567

Contemporary Authors.
Perkins Reference Book Review Index Table 928 C761A
Lilly Reference 920 C761A (also available online via Literature Resource Center)

Indexes to biographical sources are invaluable resources. The best biographical indexes are available online: Biography Reference Bank,Biography & Genealogy Master Index


You can also find background information through a keyword search of the online catalog. Search for your broad topic with keywords like companion, guide, or survey, as in this example:

This search will uncover:

Guide to the Sources of Medieval History.
Perkins Reference 940.108 C127, G946, 1978

This search will uncover:

The Oxford Companion to Philosophy.
Perkins Reference 100 O98, 1995
Lilly Reference 100 O98, 1995

In NetLibrary:

A Companion to World Philosophies.
Lilly Reference 109 C737, 1997


As you read about a subject, take note of distinctive and unique words used to describe the topic. These will be the keywords you can use to search for additional information in other sources.

To save yourself time and trouble, write down the author, title, and publication information for every source you consult. You will need this information if you need to write a bibliography or find the publication again.

Locate the publications listed in the bibliography at the end of articles. These ready-made reading lists are sources authors may have used to put their work together, and you may also find these same sources helpful for your research.

Cramer, Steven. "Part 2: Finding Background Information." Guide to Library Research. 27 July 2001. Duke Unisversity. 15 Nov 2006 .

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Choosing a Topic: A Guide to Library Research


What are you going to research?

Sometimes choosing a topic is the biggest hurdle in doing research. Your instructor may assign a general or specific topic, or the choice may be up to you. Knowing where to look for ideas will help you find an interesting subject.

Where can you get ideas?

Your interests, the things you have been reading, and conversations you have had in class or with others are often good sources of ideas.

Sources of background information like general encyclopedias, subject-specific encyclopedias or dictionaries, or textbooks can be sources of ideas.

Current periodicals may give you an idea of hot research topics. Look through some recent issues of journals or magazines in the Current Periodicals collection in Perkins Library.
Browsing the shelves in the library is also a good way to get an idea of topics which have intrigued authors. Consult this general browsing guide to find out where books on a general subject are shelved. Since books at Duke are shelved together by topic, once you have identified the call number of one book, you can browse for related books.

What are your information requirements?

When analyzing your assignment, you will also want to consider the type, quantity, and format of information you will need. Answering the following questions may help you organize your research:

What kind of assignment do you have to complete? (e.g., 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper)

How much information do you need?

Is currency important?

What types of publications do you want to read? (newspaper articles, books, journal articles, diaries, trade publications, etc.)

What formats do you need? (visual, audio, printed, electronic)

Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?

How much time do you have?

What are the keywords that describe your topic?

Once you have identified your subject, think about questions your research might help you answer. State your topic as a question. Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the key for searching catalogs, indexes, and databases for information about your subject.


How did New Deal programs influence the arts in America?


New Deal United States Depression Art Federal Aid to the Arts

Cramer, Steven. "Part 1: Choosing a Topic." Guide to Library Research. 27 July 2001. Duke Unisversity. 14 Nov 2006

Saturday, October 7, 2006

An In-Depth Look at Audience Analysis

Audience Analysis as a Communication Tool

General Sites
Articles and More Specialized Sites

Audience analysis emphasizes the diversity of responses to a given popular culture artifact by examining as directly as possible how given audiences actually understand and use popular culture texts. Three kinds of research make up most audience research:

1) broad surveys and opinion polls (like the famous Nielsen TV ratings, but also those done by advertisers and by academic researchers) that cover a representative sample of many consumers;
2) small, representative focus groups brought in to react to and discuss a pop culture text; and
3) in-depth ethnographic participant observation of a given audience, in which, for example, a researcher actually lives with and observes the TV viewing habits of a household over a substantial period of time, or travels on the road with a rock band.
Each approach has strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes more than one approach is used as a check on the others.

Audience analysis tries to isolate variables like region, race, ethnicity, age, gender, and income in an effort to see how different social groups tend to construct different meanings for the same text. Audience analysis also includes looking at that special category of audience, fan subcultures, that have grown up around certain pop culture texts and celebrities (i.e., Britney Spears “wannabees” or the “Trekkies” devoted to Star Trek). Online fan cultures are a particularly appropriate and accessible audience research topic for an online list such as this. Thus, below I have listed a few fan links to get you started. But almost any pop culture celebrity, group, or text has a fan club of some kind, so follow your own interests, obsessions, or curiosities.

One key distinction to keep in mind is “official” or “authorized” fan sites created by the media, versus “unofficial” sites created by various fans themselves. What similarities and differences do you find between these two kinds? In what ways do the fan sites reflect the same values and interests as the corporate sites? In what ways do the fan sites show differences from or even active resistance to the values and interests projected on the corporate sites?

Another good resource for online audience analysis is sites that provide space for user reviews. The Internet Movie Database, for example, has thousands of movie reviews by ordinary folks. Samples are not statistically random, but they are often wide-ranging and with enough of them can provide important information on audience responses.

The Internet Movie Database, for example, has thousands of movie reviews by ordinary folks. Samples are not statistically random, but they are often wide-ranging and with enough of them can provide important information on audience responses.


Audience Research. Short article by David Morely on the history and present practice of audience research by a leading scholar.

Fan Fiction. Fan fiction, writing by fans about stars, sometimes including alternative scripts, is a major emerging form. This site has links by various genres including Soaps, Music, Sci Fi, Horror, and many others, including some parody sites.

FANDATA’s Fandom Directory. A searchable or browseable compendium of fan sites from all over, on a very wide range of interests.

Internet Movie Database (IMDB). Excellent site for getting "ordinary viewer" movie reviews.

Obsessive Fans Sites. One person’s attempt to draw attention to the twisted world of the least deserving, most obsessive fan sites. Call this an anti-fan site.

Music Fan Clubs. A good starter list from Pause Records. See also the Music links page of our Web site.

reality blurred. A reality TV news digest with news on all reality TV since 2000. Reality Television Show Directory has links to fan sites, news sites and show sites for every possible reality show out there.

Soap Opera Fans. AOL member site with many links for one of the most active group of fans, those dedicated to TV soap operas.

Soap Opera Links. Good set of links from

Soap Opera Network. Large commercial site on soaps.

General, random link to hundreds of fan sites listed by AltaVista

The Ultimate Band List. Search for an artist or group, and this site will provide, among other things, links to fans’ sites.


Soap Operas Send Educational Messages to Global Audiences. Arvind Singhal argues for the progressive social value of soaps in an international context, especially in state-sponsored programs.

Star Trek sites. Without doubt, Star Trek wins as the most fanned program of all time. It is a natural for the cyberworld. Begin here to go where no one has gone before in terms of fan loyalty and creativity.

Fox Fights Millennium Websites. Article from E! Online about a major battle between official and unofficial websites for the TV series Millennium with links to more about the controversy. Could serve as the beginning point for a term paper topic.

Xena fan sites. Another major cult following traces this amazon without a dot com.

Whoosh! The journal of the International Association of Xena Studies. Seriously.

Watching TV Viewers. A learning module on audience analysis by media scholar David Chandler.


[Few topics on popular culture can be adequately researched on the web alone. These reading suggestions are designed as beginning points for further offline study.]

Allen, Robert C. Speaking of Soap Operas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Excellent study of the production and consumption of daytime soap operas.
Allen, Robert C., ed. Channels of Discourse Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Introduces a variety of critical approaches to popular culture (semiotics, genre analysis, ideological analysis, etc.) through essays focusing on American television.
Ang, Ien. Living Room Wars: Rethinking Media Audiences for a Postmodern World. London: Routledge, 1996.

Excellent collection of essays exploring various difficulties and possibilities in analyzing the responses of popular culture audiences.
Gamson, Joshua. Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

The best book yet written on the role of pop “celebrities” in US culture, using production, textual and gender analysis.
Kellner, Douglas. Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern. London; New York: Routledge, 1995.

Broad study that offers both a fully developed theoretical model and case studies ranging from Rambo to Madonna to Gulf War news coverage.
Lewis, Lisa. Gender Politics and MTV. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990.

Takes an audience-ethnographic approach that sees Madonna and similar figures as empowering to girls and young women.
Pustz, Matthew. Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

Study of contemporary comic strip fans, from the casual to the nearly pathologically devoted. The subtitle refers to the author’s distinction between mainstream “fanboys” and “true believers” devoted to alternative comix culture.
Radway, Janice. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1991.

One of the most often cited “classics” in American Studies literature, this analysis combines production analysis, textual analysis and ethnographic audience analysis of the “romance novel” genre.

Another Bibliography on Audience Research.