Looking For Quality Sources? Follow These GuidelinesBy Ellie Walburg on January 31, 2018
Not all information is good information.
You may have noticed this truth with the recent "fake news" trends. Just because it's published somewhere, whether online or in a print article, doesn't make it fact.
Which is important to remember when writing your research paper. Developing a quality and academically excellent paper requires resources that both support your thesis and maintain accuracy.
Dana Lynn Driscoll and Allen Brizee (2013) from Purdue Owl Writing Lab note the importance of evaluating your sources:
Evaluating sources is an important skill. It's been called an art as well as work—much of which is detective work. You have to decide where to look, what clues to search for, and what to accept. Learning how to evaluate effectively is a skill you need both for your course papers and for your life.
Here, we explore the two vital steps of finding and evaluating resources for writing papers.
1. Finding Sources
Thirty years ago, research for a report or paper was most often completed in a physical library building. You would have stacks of books that you looked up by call number from the librarian's card catalogs. Historical information was available through archives the librarian would find. You'd look up articles from an actual newspaper or journal, smudged ink marks and all.
Now, with an increasingly online research system, things have changed. Looking up books in a library has become easier with databases, online library catalogs and subject guides. You can now do your research almost anytime from anywhere.
But whether online or in-person, your school's library is your best first step. Your librarian can help you find sources quickly and efficiently. They're still your best ally in your hunt for research. By searching through your school's services, you can ensure that the sources you find are journal articles, books and other quality resources, unlike a questionable website or magazine article. Browse through subject guides and catalogs to browse through materials related to your research topic.
You can also find quality sources by browsing through databases offered through your school's library services. Popular databases offered through Cornerstone University's library include ABI/INFORM Collection (business), JSTOR (arts and sciences), Literature Online, Opposing Viewpoints in Context and ProQuest Social Sciences Database. These reliable databases will help point you in the direction to finding quality sources you can use to enhance your research paper.
Databases most often work by keywords. It may be helpful to keep track of what words you use to search for in case you need to revisit them. If you're looking for a particular author or title, you can also search by those fields in most databases.
2. Evaluating Sources
So you've found that passage in a book that has the exact information and quotes that you're looking for to support your main point. But before you jump ahead and stick that valuable passage in your paper, it's important to first evaluate the source.
While evaluating peer-reviewed journal articles doesn't require as much in-depth critique as a website found through a search engine, it's still important to ensure the integrity of the source you wish to include. This process validates your information and also builds your credibility as a writer.
Purdue Online Writing Lab shares some important questions to consider as you read through your source before accepting it as appropriate for your paper:
- What does the author of the source want to accomplish?
- Are there references or citations included?
- Is there sufficient evidence provided in the author's argument?
- Are there broad generalizations that give the wrong impression?
- How timely is the information provided in the source?
- Can you find this information provided elsewhere (cross-checking)?
- Are arguments given only one-sided?
If you deem the source valid and relatable to your paper, cite it both in your paper and in your references page.
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
When finding and evaluating sources, it's important to note the distinction between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are those that give a first-hand account of the topic. They often come in the form of interviews, historical records or statistical data. Secondary sources offer analysis and further discussion based on the primary source. These are often peer-reviewed journal articles and books.
Often, the distinction is fairly clear. But sometimes, it takes some digging. If you're unsure, ask your librarian.
Research Tips for School and Beyond
Finding and evaluating your sources prior to including them in your research paper takes time. It would be easier to quick look up an article in your search engine and pull out a great—but perhaps misleading—quote or statistic.
But ensuring the quality of your sources, whether a research paper for school or a summary for your boss or an annual report for your non-profit organization, is vital to your credibility as author. Take the time and do the research right.