Determine if you have the right source for your assignment
When choosing sources to include in your paper, you are looking for sources that:
- Support your argument
- Provide background information on your topic
- Provide contrary views you can take issue with in your paper
- Have reliable statistical data, time lines, and other information
To make any of these decisions, you need to have some idea of what your paper will discuss in
the first place (check out our guides to
Don't worry if you don't initially find the sources or answers you expect to find--it takes time
and patience. If you're getting frustrated or have any questions, don't hesitate to
ask a librarian.
Assessing specific sources
When choosing sources, you probably won't have time to read it in its entirety before deciding
if you can use it for your research paper. Here are some tips for determining if different books,
articles and web pages will be beneficial to you:
- Use the table of contents and look for keywords in chapter titles and headings. Does this look
like a work that engages with your research questions?
- Check the index for important terms and names (see
Developing Your Topic
for keyword tips).
- Browse the bibliography or list of works cited (usually before the index at the end of the
text, or at the end of chapters in an edited collection). Does this work seem to cite sources that
are also relevant? If so, track them down--even books that aren't perfect for your topic (too
general, for instance) may lead you to better sources.
- Read the abstract. Especially if you found the article through one of our
databases, there will almost always be an abstract, or a brief description of the information
contained in the article. Does the distilled argument here match your interests?
- Read the introduction and get an idea of the direction the author is taking. Will this help you
answer your research question?
- If you're working with an online article, use your computer's FIND function to locate key words
or phrases in the article. Read around the important phrases for context. Is this author taking the
issue in a direction that connects with your own ideas and questions?
- For tips on evaluating quality, see our guides under
How do I
evaluate my sources ?
- Who is publishing or sponsoring the page?
- Use the URL to help you discover the source and/or sponsor of the page.
- Is contact information for the author/publisher provided?
- How recently was the page updated?
- Be particularly wary of bias when viewing web pages. Anyone can create a web page about any
topic. YOU must verify the validity of the information.
- For more specific guidelines in evaluating web pages see our
Evaluating Internet Sources