Sometimes your instructor will require you to incorporate certain types of resources into your research, but for other assignments, you will be looking for sources on your own.
The Internet and the library both contain information on virtually any topic, but it’s important to make sure that you use credible, current sources. Inaccurate, questionable, or out-of-date sources can undermine your ideas and cause the reader to question your authority on your topic. Relevant and informed sources can help you to support and prove your thesis and persuade your audience, so evaluating and selecting sources carefully is an important part of writing a strong, convincing paper.
When searching the library catalogue, an electronic database (such as LexisNexus or Academic Search Premier), or an Internet search engine (such as Google or Yahoo), you’ll probably be surprised at how many resources you find. This is particularly true when conducting an Internet search. As you conduct these initial searches, use the following guidelines to determine whether each source is credible, relevant, and appropriate for your project:
Your instructor may require you to use a certain number of sources published within the last year, but even if this isn’t the case, try to use as many current (within the last six months to a year) as possible. Certain topics will change significantly in a short period of time, and you want to make sure that your information is current and informed.
In certain circumstances, older sources may be acceptable. For example, if you are comparing how attitudes towards travel have changed since 9/11, it would be useful to find information both prior to and following 9/11. Remember that even if an older article would be useful, always make sure that you can establish when the source was written and/or published.
Other experience might also make an author credible: if she or he once suffered from migraines but changed this with a combination of diet and exercise, then this author may also have credible knowledge about this topic. Personal experience can make an author less objective, however. While this may not disqualify the source, it’s important to be informed about any biases the author might have.
Although articles in newspapers and popular magazines can help with introductory research, since they help you to learn the basics of a topic, you will probably want to use scholarly resources for more advanced research. Peer-reviewed periodicals are often excellent resources, since each article will have been evaluated and reviewed by independent experts in the field prior to publication. Here are some characteristics of peer-reviewed periodicals:
If you are using a source accessed via the Internet (rather than through an electronic database), you should determine the credibility of the sponsoring organization by considering the following: