Write the thesis statement you have chosen and find one article opposed to it. List the title and the source (the name of the website) and the URL (website address) of the article. After consideration, is this a good source to use in your college paper? Explain why or why not. Do not merely write that it has a lot of good information or that you agree or disagree with it. Write what makes it a valid (or not valid) source. Review Sources for College papers before starting.
Because data is used in selective ways, it generally represents a point of view. When evaluating information found on the Internet, it is important to examine who is providing the information you are viewing. Sometimes you can go to a link titled “About Us,” which often tells the reader that there might be a point of view or bias. Ask yourself:
- Does this document reside on the Web server of an organization that has a political or philosophical agenda? Examples: NRA, PETA
- Never assume that extremist points of view are always easy to detect. Some sites promoting extremist views may look educational.
- If one writer is the sole proprietor and editor, it is considered a personal website and not valid for scholarly work.
Definition: A source is anything, such as a newspaper or journal article, documentary, book, interview, website, etc. where a researcher can obtain information that provides ideas, examples, or evidence. Your paper is only as good as its weakest source, so choose carefully.
When deciding to use a source, consider the three R’s; ask yourself if it’s relevant, reliable, and recent. Think like a researcher by asking the right questions, becoming well-informed, and reading and evaluating articles, books, websites, journals, and any valid source that might have the information you seek.
If you chose a topic which triggers your curiosity and interest, the research process will be engaging. You may take a shortcut from evaluating sources by visiting the library databases, in which you will find valid material. Keep track of your sources by taking careful notes. If you want to use the material you find outside the library database, review below what constitutes acceptable sources.
The following are acceptable sources (including Internet versions):
- Reputable News Media (Time, Newsweek, New York Times)
- Serious Popular Magazines (New Yorker, National Geographic)
- Government Publications
- Scholarly periodicals
- Scholarly books
- Reputable translations of foreign works
- Student dissertations or theses
- Research forums on the Internet
- Internet periodicals by reputable organizations
News media are acceptable only if the story is so recent that there are no scholarly publications on the subject. In other words: Use the news media sparingly.
Serious popular magazines occasionally have articles by authorities, interviews, or summaries of current topics of interest. Acceptability depends on how reputable the authors are and how thoroughly the publication checks its facts.
Government publications are acceptable if they are research or technical publications, but generally not if they are popular brochures or pamphlets. Note the .gov ending for online work.
General tips for finding valid sources:
- Use the most original source possible.
- Use the most up-to-date and reliable source available.
- Never cite your class notes, your textbook, encyclopedias, or study sites such as SparkNotes. Find acceptable sources through databases.
- Never use out-of-date sources. Cite the most recent materials you can find.
- Always use accepted documenting styles. Do NOT make it up as you go along. For all courses you take that require writing a research paper, ask the professor which documentation style he or she prefers.
- Always ask if the sources you choose are relevant, reliable, and recent.
What’s wrong with encyclopedias and textbooks?
Many instructors forbid reference to Wikipedia but have no problem with other encyclopedias. An encyclopedia is great for getting a general understanding of a subject, so you can generally trust the information provided, but it is not cited in serious research work. Avoid using encyclopedias, study sites, textbook, or personal websites in this or in your future university courses, even if permitted. They are not original sources. Students use them because they are useful to provide an overview or introduction to a topic, but don’t make the mistake of thinking your research paper is professional unless they avoid encyclopedias, study sites, and textbooks.
What’s wrong with Wikipedia?
Wikipedia suffers from the problem that it is not a primary source and has somewhat weak quality control. It has suffered from the problem of deliberate sabotage, vandalism, even censorship. It’s generally reliable for checking routine facts and extremely specialized topics, and it’s often the only source on popular culture, but avoid citing it in serious research.
Why not just use Google?
The articles that come up on Google are a varied bunch, many of them are commercial and even useless, mostly not at all scholarly. By obtaining your sources from the library’s Database, you will find acceptable articles.