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Common Craft

 Common Craft develops short videos to explain concepts with the use of basic cutouts. Transcripts are available for most of the videos and some are close captioned (CC). The library subscribes to Common Craft and can post the videos to our website. If you would like to embed a Common Craft video in your course shell, please contact

Here are some select videos mainly from their Study Skills category. They are also posted within our Doing Research guide.

Academic Databases Explained

Source: © Common Craft, 2020.


In research, it’s easy to think that more is better. Access to more books, more papers and articles surely leads to better research, right?

The reality is that quality matters more than quantity. Finding the best, most trustworthy sources is the real challenge.

That’s why academic databases matter. These resources make it easier to find the most useful, high quality and relevant information available.

Usually academic databases are accessed through your school’s library and include access to journals, newspapers, magazines, reports, newsletters, images, ebooks, and more.

Using an academic database means you can save time by quickly identifying resources that matter for your research.

The most popular academic databases cover a wide variety of subjects. Others may focus on specific subjects, like science, history, or business. Let’s take a look at how they work.

Once you’ve selected a database that relates to your research, you’ll likely be able to use search to find what you need.

Consider using quotation marks for words that appear together. You can also use synonyms along with the word “Or” to see broader results.

You might see thousands of results, so you’ll need to do some filtering. You may be able to filter the results based on the type of publication, publication date, language and more.

When you find a resource that seems useful, open it and review the title, author, publish date and publisher.

You’ll often see an abstract at the top that summarizes the content of the article and helps you evaluate if it is relevant. The abstract may also help you identify more useful search terms for finding additional resources. The full article may be available by clicking “Full Text”.

The database may also provide a button for creating a citation if you use the resource.

The next time you need to do research, don’t waste time digging through piles of materials to find a few good sources.

Instead, ask your librarian about academic databases and you’ll discover a resource that makes your research more efficient and effective.

Bias Detection

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


You probably know someone who is a big sports fan. Win or lose, their team is the best and they love to let others know.

In sports, we expect people to be biased for their own team. Their goal isn’t fairness and it’s obvious.

They wear their bias on their sleeve, or even their face on occasion. And just like people root for sports teams, they also root for ideas, laws, products, research, politicians and more.

People often write articles, make videos and do interviews that are biased. They are designed to promote their team’s side of the story. And that’s fine. Bias can rally a team and win debates for the greater good.

The problem is that bias is often hidden. What might appear to be neutral, fair information can be biased.

For example, to understand the current state of climate change you can’t depend on one team’s biased perspective. You need information that is neutral, fair and unbiased.

The same is true for important decisions in science, education, government and more. Unbiased information is essential.

The problem is that it can be hard to see whether the goal of an article, for instance, is to be fair, or to root for their team. The best you can do is learn to detect bias.

Imagine reading an article and asking yourself: Who is the author and what is their motivation? Do they earn money or benefit by promoting one idea over another? If so, the article may be biased.

Does the author provide only one way to think about a subject? Do they ignore key information or perspectives that don’t fit their own? If so, they may be biased.

Are sources cited in the article? Who or what are they and what role do they play? If the sources are biased, there may be misinformation and the article itself may be biased.

Does the article use insulting language or buzzwords? Does it use examples that appeal to only one side of a story? If so, the article may be biased.

It’s important to note that bias isn’t always bad, and can be helpful. The key is learning to recognize the author’s bias and evaluating the information with that bias in mind. This way, you can choose the best sources for your needs.

Citations & Citing your work

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


If you think about it, much of the information that goes into a paper or article can be organized into three groups: “common knowledge” “my ideas”, and “other people’s ideas”. By understanding these groups, we can see why citations matter in our work. 

Let’s start with common knowledge, which consists of well established and reliable facts. For example, George Washington being the first US president is an established fact found in a variety of reliable sources. A year having 365 days is also considered common knowledge.

Next, let’s consider “my ideas”. This group consists of your personal thoughts, opinions, conclusions, and analysis of your topic. If you are conducting your own original research, it would also fall into this category.

And finally, there are other people’s ideas - and these deserve special care. When we research a topic, we’re likely to find and borrow helpful information and discoveries that came from the work of specific individuals or organizations whose work was published in reputable books, journals, articles and websites. 
“Other people’s ideas” also include quotes from other writing that support or debate points that you’re making. A paper or project may include all three types of information.

While common knowledge and your ideas don’t usually need special treatment, when other people’s ideas are included in your paper, readers do need to know. This can be done with citations. Using citations shows you’re responsible. You’ve done the research, given credit to the right people, provided the reader with resources for more learning and avoided plagiarism.

A citation consists of two parts that work together. These are the in-text citation and full citations. Here’s how they work…

When you use someone else’s ideas, the reader needs to know, but adding the required information into the middle of your paper would be annoying and hard to read.

So, we need a quick way to indicate when a section is based on someone else's ideas. This is done with an in-text citation. It’s a brief notification within the body of the text that specific words, ideas, figures, or images were taken from other sources. These point the reader to the second part of a citation--the full citation--which can be found either at end of the paper or at the bottom of the page. This way, the text remains readable and it’s clear when you use other people's’ ideas.

Often, full citations have all the information needed to find the original publication. These include author names, titles of books or journals, publishers, publication dates, page numbers and more.

Let’s look at two common ways to cite your sources in a paper:
 Imagine that you use an idea from a book in your paper and need to cite it.

An in-text citation could might include the author’s last name and year published, author’s last name and page number, or simply a number. These connect the reader to the full citation, which may be in a bibliography at the end of the paper, or in a footnote at the bottom of the page.

Using citations is part of being a responsible student and researcher, but it’s also a service to others. They acknowledge the people whose work helped establish what is known about the world and provides a way for your readers to dive even deeper into your subject.

Copyright & Creative commons

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


Julia’s dream is to make a living as a photographer. In this dream, she takes amazing photos, people buy them, and their purchases fund her future work.

But it’s not that simple. Julia wants to publish some of her photos to help spread the word, but she’s concerned because photos are easy to copy. She could lose control and not be able to make a living from her talent.

So she does some research and learns that in the U.S., as with other countries, we have laws that give creators of materials like books, images, movies, artwork and music a way to own and protect their creations. It’s called copyright law. Owning the copyright means having the exclusive right to manage and sell the material.

And she’s surprised to find that when she creates photos, she owns the copyright to them automatically, without taking any other action. Though she can always register them with the U.S. Copyright office for good measure.

She likes being covered by copyright law, but it limits her exposure, because her permission is required for sharing a photo. She needs a way to make some of her photos more sharable.

Her research leads her to Creative Commons, which is a set of licenses that she can use to make her copyrighted photos free for sharing.

By licensing specific photos with a Creative Commons license, she doesn’t have to approve each person’s request for sharing, as long as a few simple rules are followed. She chooses a license that requires the user to provide attribution, or credit for her work, and to be non-commercially.

Using Creative Commons means she retains some rights while her photos and name have the potential to be seen by many more people because they can be shared for free.

After considering the options, Julia decides to license a few photos with Creative Commons, and use copyright with “all rights reserved” for the rest of her portfolio because it will be important for her goals. So she adds copyright information, which includes the year the photo was first taken and her name, wherever those photos appear.

Across the country, Kelly needs a travel photo for his magazine article. He searches, and finds a nice one online and notes a Creative Commons license and Julia’s name. His use is commercial, so he visits her site and finds more photos that fit his needs.

The one he wants is marked “all right reserved”, so to avoid copyright infringement and potential legal issues, he contacts Julia who gives him permission to use the photo in exchange for a license fee. This way, Kelly can use the photo in his magazine and Julia can build her career.

Both Kelly and Julia understand that ownership and proper use of materials can be difficult to navigate, especially because the Web is global and copyright laws can vary by country.

So here are a few things they always consider...

When they see a copyright symbol or notice, they ask the creator about proper use. And they still ask even if they don’t see a symbol.

When they see Creative Commons licenses like these, they know they can share the material for free, as long as they follow the rules of the license, found at

Both copyright and Creative Commons are important parts of a system that come with a responsibility to follow rules, rules that support the future work of people and organizations who can make our world a better place.

Peer review

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


Researching a topic can be difficult when we have to sift through a huge amount of information. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated when you don’t know what information to trust.

A key skill in research is efficiently separating the trustworthy information from the biased or misleading information. One way to do this is to use articles from peer reviewed journals. To understand why this matters, we have to look at how trustworthy information makes it to the public.

Think about it like this… On one side we have researchers working hard to understand or develop something new, like a drug. On the other side is the public who could benefit from new findings and discoveries. The researchers want their findings to be shared with the public and have a positive impact. To accomplish this, their work must be deemed trustworthy and credible.

The problem is that some research is done poorly and could mislead or harm people. So, we need a way to ensure that the most credible research reaches the public. 
This job is often accomplished by professional or peer reviewed journals that serve as gatekeepers for new research. These journals review and analyze the new information and will only publish findings they find trustworthy and up to their standards.

This process is called Peer Review and a journal’s reputation depends on it. Here’s how it works…

Dimitri and Denise have conducted a study on soil quality that they believe will help farmers. With the study complete, they write an article explaining the study’s goals, methods, findings and recommendations, and submit the paper to the Journal of Soil Quality.

The journal then assembles a panel of experts or “peers” who specializes in soil to read the article, without knowing who wrote it, and investigates the team’s information. It’s this panel of experts who decides if Dimitri and Denise’s article meets or exceeds the standards for publishing in the journal. The peer reviewers may accept the paper and recommend it for publishing, request changes before accepting it, or reject the paper completely. It’s this peer review process that helps ensure only credible information is published in the journal.

Dimitri and Denise’s article was accepted by the panel with minor revisions and published for future reference. Unlike blog posts, books or even newspaper articles, peer reviewed journals use a rigorous process designed to make trustworthiness and credibility the highest priority.

When doing research, keep peer reviewed journals and articles in mind because they’ve done the hard work to establish what research can be trusted and their work can save you valuable time.

Presentation planning

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


Whether it’s in class or at work, there are times when we must stand in front of a group of people and present information.

It’s one of the major ways we share ideas and doing it well can be a very important skill. But where do we start? What goes into a great presentation?

Let’s assume you’ll use presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote and your goal is to educate a group about space travel.

To start, think about all the ideas you’ll want to cover and document them .One way to do this is on sticky notes. Take some time to write down all the points you think are relevant, one point for each note, and stick them on a wall. Then, take a step back and think about groups of ideas. Are some of the notes related to others?

Move the sticky notes into 3-5 major groups and take out what’s not relevant. Now that your ideas are organized, it’s time to think about what you’ll say about each idea.

For this, you can create an outline. Give each group a name and add the ideas in that group as sub points in the outline. These points should all relate back to the group subject. Feel free to write out specific things you’d like to say on each point.

Now you’ve accomplished something very important - the ideas in your talk are organized in a logical way. This makes your presentation easy to follow.

Next, let’s consider the actual presentation. Open the presentation software and create a bunch of blank slides. Here, each slide will represent a major point in your talk.

Referring to your outline, add your notes slide-by-slide until all your points are present. Now you have an organized presentation with major points for each slide.

But you still need visuals that your audience will see. Resist the urge to include everything you say or create bullet points for each idea. The best, most effective presentations don’t use a lot of words on the slides.

Instead, consider how photos, drawings, diagrams or shapes can support the points you’ll make. It’s this combination of speech and on-screen visuals that works best because visuals make your points easy to remember.

With the visuals in place, you can use the notes for each slide to document what you’d like to say in the presentation.

Before you know it, your presentation will be ready for lift-off.

Protecting reputations online

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


In the past, doing something embarrassing wasn't a big deal. It happened, and then people moved on. But now that things can be shared on the Web immediately, those embarrassing moments can last forever and impact your reputation and those of your friends.

Let's talk about what happens on the Web. Search engines are constantly scanning it. Their goal is to take a snapshot of every word, picture and video on the web and save it for search results. This means that once a page has been scanned, it may be there forever. Even if the image is deleted from a site, it may still be found in the future - which is when problems can occur.

Think about it this way. If you share videos of yourself or others doing illegal things, or photos that make people look bad, it could seriously harm their reputations. And sometimes it's hard to tell. What seems like a funny photo today, Yaaay! may look very different to someone who finds it the future - Boooo! By understanding a few things now, you can help avoid problems later.

It starts with what you choose to put on websites. Sharing on the Web can be fun and productive. But it could also cause problems. So, it's up to you to think about the people in the photo or story, including yourself, before you share it. Would you want your grandfather to see this photo? Or a future boss? Once you click, you lose control of who can see the photo on the Web. This means your friends have to depend on you to take responsibility for the images, stories, and videos you share on the Web.

Luckily, you don't have to share everything publicly. Find ways to share your life privately without having it scanned by search engines. And be careful using people's names - names are easy for search engines to scan.

Another step is asking your friends to think about what they share on the Web. Let them know that, from now on, you're going to take responsibility. Talk about the risks and what photos could do in the future. Agree to think before you click. This way, you can act goofy today and still have the respect you deserve tomorrow.

Of course, you can't control everything on the Web. If you feel your reputation is at risk, you can take action. Contact the person who posted it and ask them to remove it - they should understand. Taking action today can make it harder to find in the future.

Sharing your life online can be fun and productive, but it can also mean losing some control. You have a responsibility to help protect your reputation and the reputations of those around you. Think before you click.

Social media and the workplace


Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


These days people have new powers. Not that kind. I mean on the Web. We can create websites and post messages to the world with the click of a button. Blogs, social networking sites and Twitter - all make it easy. But this power comes with new responsibilities, especially when it comes to the workplace.

Organizations often monitor what is said about them in the media and control every message that comes from the company. But these days blogs and social networking sites mean that companies can't keep up - the media has become social. New ways to understand and react to what's being said online are new needed. That's why organizations are beginning to encourage employees to understand and be a part of online conversations. Consider this:

Chair Hero had made quality chairs for twenty years. Recently something happened: one of their chair models was defective and people were falling down. Soon enough, blogs, social networking sites and Twitter were all writing about their defective chairs. Within two days, they were overwhelmed.

The company started to panic. What could they do? What will work in this new world?

At first, they wrote press releases and posted information on their website. It helped a little, but they could see the conversations were happening elsewhere. They felt powerless, like they had lost control.

A potential solution to this problem requires a new way of thinking about company communication. These days, customers want more than just another press release - they want to have an honest conversation with someone from the company - often outside the company website.

To make these conversations productive and reduce the risks, companies need to have a few things in place:

  • 1. Official accounts on popular social media sites
  • 2. A way to monitor what's being said about them, using services like Google Alerts or Twitter Search
  • 3. Guidelines that give employees clear direction

Let's look at how this works. Silas recently went through Chair Hero's training sessions on using social media. It's now a part of his job to identify and respond to people talking about the company online. Before responding to a recent blog post, Silas goes through a quick checklist:

He asks himself, Does this need a response? In this case, Yes - he can offer valuable information.

Is he the right person? Yes - He knows the facts. Does he know the culture? Yes - he knows the blog and what's been said before

So, Silas decides to get involved. Following the guidelines at his company, he introduces himself as a company representative and provides a short disclaimer. He's careful to speak in the first person and focuses on the subject and not the person. His goal is to be personable, respectful and never angry. In this case, he may just need to provide a link to clear up the issue and an offer to help in the future. Before posting it, he quickly makes sure no confidential info has been shared. The next day, Silas receives a quick "thank you", and an added benefit - his response will now be seen by others - and even appear in search results.

Silas was able to take a risky situation and turn it into an informative message - without taking the rest of the company's valuable time. He added value and built trust with customers - and that's the main role of employees using social media, whether is a crisis like a defective chair model, every day customer support or just sharing information.

The web is too wide for a company to control every communication. But a company can understand the growing influence of social media, and create an environment where employees are empowered to participate and build trust with their customers.

Research Papers

Source: © Common Craft, 2018.


At one time or another, most students are asked to write a research paper. Making your paper successful means understanding that writing a paper is more than just an assignment. It’s really a way to practice important skills that you’ll use in the real world.

Let’s start with the big picture. Whether you’re at school or work, your success depends on being able to argue points and influence others. A research paper is how you can practice this skill. You are writing an argument.

Imagine that you’re at work and your goal is to convince your manager you deserve a raise. How you present this argument matters. To get the result you want, you’ll need to support your argument with evidence and consider your manager’s perspective.

To start, you’ll want to search broadly and learn as much about your topic as you can. You could gather and analyze performance reviews, productivity stats and salary history to build your case for earning a raise. You can also look outside the company and include published reports and studies.

This evidence will help you develop your claim or thesis. This is a statement that frames what you expect and why it makes sense. It has two parts, the claim “I deserve a raise” and the evidence that supports it “based on my performance and these reports”. This sets the stage and shows your manager that you’re prepared.

But there’s more. To be successful, you must also anticipate your manager’s perspective and what questions or arguments she may have. Will she challenge any of your points? Will she compare your performance to others on the team? By anticipating her questions and concerns, you can have answers ready and make your case even stronger.

This method of developing an argument can be practiced by writing a research paper. You’ll look at evidence, make a claim based on that evidence and then be prepared to defend your points.

In English class, this may mean reading a passage from a book, like Moby Dick, and noticing evidence of symbolism. Using this information you can develop a claim with evidence about the author’s intentions that you can defend in an argument.

In history class, you may notice a wide variety of global events seem connected by a single theme during World War II. This evidence leads you to develop a claim or thesis that the events are indeed connected and prepare to answer questions that challenge your thesis.

By developing a strong argument, you may be able to influence others to see history or a work of literature from a different perspective.

Research papers take many forms, but at heart, they are all arguments designed to influence others. And earning influence can help you be more successful in the future.

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