Any time you are asked to write a research paper, your teacher will require a certain amount of credible sources. A credible source means any book, article, image, or other item that accurately and factually supports the argument of your research paper. It is important to use these kinds of sources in order to convince your audience that you have put in the time and effort to really learn and understand your topic, so they can trust what you say.
Why Be Skeptical of Internet Sources?
The internet is full of information. Unfortunately, it is not always useful or accurate information, which means some sites are very bad sources.
You have to be very careful about the information you use when making your case. Writing a political science paper and citing The Onion, a satirical site, would not get you a very good grade, for example. Sometimes you may find a blog post or news article that says exactly what you need to support a thesis, but the information is only good if it comes from a trusted, professional source.
Keep in mind that anyone can post information on the web. Wikipedia is a prime example. Although it may sound really professional, anyone can edit the information. However, it can be helpful in that it often lists its own bibliography and sources. Many of the sources referenced in the article come from scholarly journals or texts. You can use these to find real sources that your teacher will accept.
Types of Research Sources
The best sources come from books and peer reviewed journals and articles. Books that you find in your library or bookstore are good sources because they have usually already gone through the vetting process. Biographies, text books, and academic journals are all safe bets when researching your topic. You can even find a lot of books digitally online.
Articles can be a little trickier to discern. Your teacher will probably tell you to use peer reviewed articles. A peer reviewed article is one that has been reviewed by experts in the field or subject the article is about. They check to make sure that the author has presented accurate and quality information. The easiest way to find these types of articles is to identify and utilize academic journals.
Academic journals are great because their purpose is to educate and enlighten, not make money. The articles are almost always peer-reviewed. A peer-reviewed article is kind of like what your teacher does when he or she grades your paper. Authors submit their work and a board of experts review their writing and research to determine whether or not it is accurate and informative.
How to Identify a Credible Source
- If you want to use a website, make sure it is up to date with an easily identifiable author. Websites that end in .edu or .gov are usually pretty trustworthy.
- Make sure the information is the most recent information available. You may find a good article from the 1950's, but there are probably more contemporary articles that either expand upon or even discredit research that old.
- Familiarize yourself with the author. If they are an expert in their field, it should be easy to find information on their education and determine their role in the field of study they are writing about. Sometimes you start seeing the same names pop up on various articles or books.
Things to Avoid
- Social media. This can be anything from Facebook to blogs. You might find a news article shared by one of your friends and think it is credible, but chances are it is not.
- Using material that is out of date. You don't want to base an argument around information that has been debunked or is considered incomplete.
- Using a second hand quote. If you find a quote in a book, be sure to cite the original author and source and not the author using the quote.
- Using any information that has obvious bias. Some journals publish for profit or has their research funded by a group with special interest in finding certain results. These can look really trustworthy, so be sure to understand where your information is coming from.
Students often struggle with how to use their sources, especially if the teacher requires several. When you start writing, you may think you know everything you want to say. So how do you incorporate outside sources? The first step is to do a lot of research! A lot of times, the things you find may change or refine your thesis. It can even help you if you have a general idea, but need help focusing on a strong argument. Once you have a well-defined and thoroughly researched thesis topic, you should identify the information that will support the claims you make in your paper. Depending on the subject, this could include: graphs, statistics, images, quotes, or just references to information you've gathered in your studies.
Another important part of using the material you have gathered is citing the source. This can mean including the author and/or source within the paper as well as listed within a bibliography. You never want to make the mistake of plagiarism, which can happen accidentally if you don't cite your sources properly!
If you need help understanding the different ways to site information, or how to build your bibliography, the Owl Perdue Online Writing Lab can be a huge help. Within the site you will find the rules for properly citing different kinds of material, formatting quotes, sample bibliographies, just about anything you need when it comes to figuring out how to write and properly structure your paper.
Tips on How to Find Sources
- Start at your school or local library. These institutions are designed to help you find everything you need. If you can't find what you need in your local library, many work as a system that allows you to look for a specific book and have it delivered to your library.
- Once you find a few sources you like, check their sources! This is where bibliographies come in handy. Most of the sources you will use will have sources of their own. In addition to finding more information, you will become familiar with the leading experts in your subject.
- Scholarly databases are a huge help in researching a paper. They cover a broad range of subjects from writers of all disciplines.
- Ask your teacher for help. If your teacher has assigned a paper, chances are they know a little bit about the material. There is a lot of information available to you through books and the internet. Sometimes it may seem overwhelming and you just don't know where to start. Your teacher can help get you started and tell you the best places to look based on your subject.
Places to Start Looking
- Microsoft Academic Search
- Google Scholar
- National Science Digital Library
- Index Copernicus
- Project Muse