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Finding and evaluating sources is a process that researchers constantly go through in order to produce a well-researched, authoritative paper.
Finding sources is a critical step in research. It takes time and effort to locate sources that will be helpful for a paper. Initially, a researcher gathers background information in order to gain a basic understanding of a topic. From there, a researcher determines an area of focus and locates information about the chosen topic of focus. Researchers gather this information from two major sources: books and periodicals. Generally, background information is not used in the paper, whereas research from books and periodicals is used in the paper.
The internet serves well as an initial form of research for background information and for determining current topics of discussion. Internet sources help guide the writer towards more credible, relevant, and authoritative sources.
General encyclopedias may mention prominent people or ideas concerning the topic. Specialized encyclopedias give more in-depth information and provide bibliographies of other references for the topic.
Search the library online catalog to find books related to your topic. Utilize the advanced search to narrow your focus. Additional sources can be found by browsing the surrounding bookshelves for any other book that might be pertinent. This can also be done from a computer.
Type in the name of the book using an alphabetical search on the library catalog.
Pick one of the editions presented by the search. Then click the details link.
You will be routed to a new page which lists the bibliographic information for the book.
On the left side of this page, click on the link nearby items on shelf for a virtual browse of the library sources.
Use a search engine to find periodicals. To find a search engine, click on search by disciplineon the library homepage. Click on the field of interest, and then click on a search engine, such as EBSCO.
Search the works cited and bibliography pages of books or periodicals. Look through the list and find any sources the author used that might be helpful for your paper. Be careful to acknowledge the author if you draw on his or her original insights concerning these sources.
Search the internet or the library catalog using a specific author's name rather than searching for a keyword. For example, if you come across several articles that mention the same author, try to find other material that the author has published.
Use specialized indexes of academic journals. Many disciplines have their own index that lists the recent research and publications from that field. The indexes are usually hardbound volumes and are located in the library.
Next, the researcher has to physically gather the material and review it, determining which sources are relevant to the topic. Usually a researcher locates numerous sources, but not all of those sources are valuable; some are unrelated to the topic, not credible, or out-of-date.
Sources are divided into primary and secondary sources. Primary sources give information from someone who actually observed an event, preformed original research, or wrote an orignal text (such as a work of fiction). Secondary sources present or discuss the information of a primary source. For example, the actual report of the research of scientists at Johns Hopkins University is a primary source. An article in Newsweek that briefly summarizes the findings of these scientists is a secondary source. Consider locating the primary source for your research if a secondary source mentions the findings of the primary.
Academic journals which are peer-reviewed are the most credible sources. Peer-reviewed means other experts in the same field have reviewed and analyzed the conclusions and assertions of the article before it is published. Some academic search engines on the library catalog let you search for only peer-reviewed articles.
Other sources, such as non-peer-reviewed articles and scholarly books, can be useful for a research paper. A non-peer-reviewed academic journal would be preferable to a magazine article. Also, not every book on a topic is equally credible for an academic paper. Learn about the author's credibility and purposes for writing it, or research how other sources have used it. Find books written for a specific field, rather than books written for a general audience.
Because the internet is unmonitored, internet sources can be dangerous for a researcher. These sources are often inaccurate or unverifiable. In evaluating a website, look for several important items of information: the last date the site was updated, the person/organization in charge of the site, and the site domain. For instance, sites ending in .edu, .org, or .gov are generally more credible than .com websites. Unless you're doing primary research on government documents or scholarly journals, limit the amount of information gathered from internet sites. Try to find the same information from authoritative sources.
Research needs to be current, especially in scientific disciplines. Look for the most recent articles and books.
Note: For more information about considering the audience when choosing sources, see the handout Audience.
Ballenger, Bruce. The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers. Needham
Hult, Christine A. Researching and Writing in the Social Sciences.