Reading a source carefully can take a while, and we cover tips for how to do this in the Understanding Sources module. However, before you reach that step, you will need to figure out if an article is worth reading closely, or if a book is worth checking out from the library.
This is where those keywords that you used in searching for texts can become really helpful. Looking for those keywords in a text (or in a book’s table of contents or index) can help you see how relevant a book is to your topic or research question. Try keeping a running list of keywords next to you as you look at a source.
For example, if you are researching the way that female characters were depicted in video games of the 1980s, a book on the history of game design that doesn’t use the words “women,” “woman,” “girl,” “female,” “gender,” “sex,” or “body” frequently (or at all!) might not be an important source for your project.
Of course, this system isn’t perfect. A book from the 1980s that talks about the ideal body type for a video game character, but doesn’t mention women at all could be a great source for you, because it gives you a sense that women were missing from discussions of characters’ bodies at this time.
Still, a book with a chapter called “Heroes and She-roes” in a book on video game design in the late 20th century might be more helpful.
Thinking about the qualifications of the author, beyond where or how the text was published, can also be helpful as you sort through a lot of source material.
- Who is the author?
- Where is he/she coming from intellectually, politically, historically?
- Is the author qualified to write about this topic given the scope of your project?
As you skim texts for content, you should begin to compile a bibliography of texts that you’ve examined. Remember to still list the material that you don’t end up using, since remembering what you’ve already looked at can be helpful if your central question changes, or just so you don’t spend time looking at the same un-useful material twice.