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Agriculture and Bioresources 492/494: Tutorials for Finding and Evaluating Information Sources

This guide contains two modules designed to assist 492/494 AgBio students in contributing to the scholarly conversation in their fields, and finding and retrieving relevant and credible information.

Search Tools

With so many types of information out there, how do you decide where to look? Thinking carefully about the information you need for your scholarly work will help you to decide which search tools to use in order to find the information.

Deciding Where to Look: Grey Literature

As you work on the literature reviews for your theses, you will be searching for a variety of information. Thinking back to the first module, you might be looking for research studies, or scholarly information, or you may need information that is produced outside of traditional scholarly publishing, like grey literature. Deciding where to look takes some forethought, but like deconstructing your thesis topic and then starting to search, thinking about the information you need and who might have produced it will increase precision in the long run.

  • Think of the information you would like to access, for example, data on crop rotation in Saskatchewan.
  • Consider who might be producing such information by asking questions like
    • Who needs this information?
    • Who would be providing it?
  • Information like data on crop rotation in Saskatchewan might be found in a grey literature report from a local agronomist, or from the Government of Saskatchewan, or as statistics including all of the prairie provinces from the federal Government.
  • Perhaps your information might be produced by non-profits, professional associations, research institutes, and other organizations. Then, searching the internet for the websites of these groups would be appropriate, looking specifically for sections with names like "Documents", "Reports", and "Library." (info in this bullet point from SFU Library)

If you're not sure who might be creating the type of information you need to access, then you will have to head to the open internet, and chances are, Google will be your first stop.

Google is simple and the algorithm is powerful, meaning you can find decent information. However, Google isn't filtered for quality, and so if you are going to use it, you must do the filtering yourself.

  • Visit this USask Library page for some critical questions to ask when you are evaluating internet sources: Critical Questions for Evaluating Your Sources
  • Visit this USask library page that will equip you with information and suggested tools for being savvy online searchers, consumers, curators, collaborators, creators, and communicators. Are You Information Savvy?

Deciding Where to Look: Scholarly Articles

Each department in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources has its own research guide. Your librarian has compiled information valuable for your area. To find scholarly articles, click on the "Find Journal Articles" tab in the guide. There are a variety of tools available. Some are general across departments and some are specialized to meet specific information needs.

Here are links to the various guides:

Agricultural and Resource Economics

Animal and Poultry Science

Food and Bioproduct Sciences

Plant Sciences

Soil Science

Here, you can find a list of all the research guides produced by the University Library.

Take some time to browse the research guide titles. There are guides that focus on each of the University's academic disciplines and several on more general or cross-disciplinary topics such as data and statistics, GIS, citation guides, and writing help

Searching using Google Scholar

Google Scholar seems like a wonder search! Throw in some keywords and come back with thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of results. Google Scholar has many redeeming qualities but there are also some challenges associated with it. The bottom line is you can use Google Scholar for your work, but don't use only it. Make sure to use reliable, quality databases found elsewhere in this guide.

Pros and Cons of Google Scholar
Pros Cons
Familiar and pretty simple to use (like Google).

Returns many hits but not necessarily comprehensive coverage; use other sources, too.

Returns hits consisting of articles, books, conference proceedings, etc. Quality varies on Google Scholar, so you need to know how to determine if the results are what you need, i.e. scholarly. Critical Questions for Assessing Your Sources
Provides a link to “related articles” which can help your search. Cannot limit results to peer reviewed or full text, or limit by discipline.
Shows full text articles from USask or elsewhere. Less is more – with Google Scholar, you get more results which can be daunting to wade through.
Allows you to save citations and articles to read later. Often takes you to publishers’ website where they ask you to pay for an article. Do Not Pay – take the citation and find the article in the USask Library.


Do an Activity!

Head over to this website:

With your own thesis topic/research question in mind, review the different search tools listed on the page and think about when you might use (or if you might use) these different tools. Obviously, there is no right answer, but thinking about the various tools in relation to your own topic will help you conduct your literature review in a thorough fashion.