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Evaluating Your Sources before You Write a Research Paper

Evaluating Your Sources before You Write a Research Paper

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By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, Online Learning Tips

During your university classes, you will frequently be asked to write research papers as a way of demonstrating the knowledge you’ve gained during the course. You’ll need to find good sources, embed those sources into your research paper and ensure that you have cited them correctly.

However, how do you tell which sources are good and which are not? What are the standards to use when you’re judging a source for your research paper? Evaluate any sources you plan to use with the following criteria:

  • Author expertise
  • Publication source
  • Timeliness
  • Impartiality

Looking at the Author’s Expertise

One way to determine a quality source is to look at the author’s expertise. Does that author have an academic degree in the appropriate field? Most authors will mention their degrees in a byline above the article or a biography at the bottom of the article.

If no degree is listed, look at whether or not the author has previously written about the similar topics in the field; this information can be found in the bio or through a quick Google search. Does he or she express opinions without providing facts as proof, or has the writer taken the time to create an article that flows logically and is supported by facts?

Publication Sources Should Also Be Considered when You’re Writing a Research Paper 

You should also consider where a source is published before using it in your paper. Articles from peer-reviewed scholarly journals are excellent sources, for example, because these articles have been reviewed by other academics before publication. Books from an established publishing company are an equally good source because they have been checked by professional editors.

The Internet can be a treasure trove of good material. However, be sure to use reputable sources. If you use material from news outlets, for instance, consider that source’s reputation. Is it known for carefully researching its stories, such as the New York Times, or do you see constant retractions published after stories appear in that online publication?

The Timeliness of Your Source Is Also Worth a Look

Many industries, such as cybersecurity or information technology, change rapidly. Check when a source was published — was it during the current year, one year ago or 10 years ago? If your source is several years old and involves an industry that changes rapidly, find a more current source that provides the same or more recent information.

Impartiality Determines the Difference between a Good Source and a Bad Source

Some authors allow their own biases to show up in their writing. Before using their material in your research paper, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the author have strong views?
  • Are those views substantiated with facts that can be verified through other sources?
  • Does the author show a partiality toward one particular side of a topic or are both sides treated equally and impartially?

Using carefully chosen, high-quality sources leads to a good research paper. These sources could also make the difference between a mediocre grade and a high grade on your paper.

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