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Writing 2 (Terhaar): Research Projects

Identifying and Locating Sources

Why did we include a tab on identifying and locating sources when they’re so easy to find on the Internet? Because that approach may satisfy a high school teacher (usually they’re generalists), but it rarely satisfies a college teacher (usually they’re specialists).


Here’s what happens when many students use the Google general search approach:


1) They do a Google search and take several sources from the top 10-30 hits, looking for something that supports their own ideas. This type of source usage rarely produces a compelling argument, an argument that convinces more than your best friends who’ll believe anything you say!


2) The sources may sound like they’re saying something that’s relevant to your research question, but the sources have not been read completely and carefully (if at all) and they say little about your specific subject. College teachers have often read many sources, so they know what those sources actually say. If you use an irrelevant source, you reveal your own lack of knowledge and effort.


3) The sources are inappropriate in some other way: they’re out-of-date, lack authority (have little knowledge or expertise on their topic), or they’re recounting hearsay or committing some type of verbal or illogical fallacy. College teachers can spot these problems easily!


Warning before we proceed: we don’t mean to put down all Google searches; Google can be a fine search engine, as long as you search carefully. (More on this step later.) Even better? Try Google Scholar 

But there are alternatives to Google that will produce compelling, relevant, and appropriate sources. And these are the sources used by scholarly, professional, and business people everyday, so why not try them so you get some real world experience. You can then put the experience on your work resume!

Tip #1: Before you start trying to locate sources, make sure you understand the role or function of those sources in the assignment. Should the sources show competing lines of thought on a question? Should they show the latest thought on an issue? Should they cover a particular time period or perspective or? Ask your instructor!

Tip #2: Keep track of every single search, noting your search parameters and history. It’s really sad to hear stories about students trying to relocate an excellent source and coming up empty-handed (especially when it’s 6am and the assignment is due in 3 hours)!

Tip #3: Know when to modify or call off an unsuccessful search or unproductive line of inquiry. When you cannot find sources, spending more time searching may not be productive; instead, if you think the sources are there somewhere, think smarter about how and where to search and/or get help from your instructor or a librarian. (Use the librarian Chat Box on this page.)

Tip #4: Know how to identify source types/categories so you search for the correct one. Click on these links to read about different types and/or categories:

Your professors may have specific ideas about some sources, for example interviews or specific texts or media as primary sources and relevant web sites. But they may expect you to find your own sources, too. That’s where the library online databases will come in handy. 

Types of sources Their content Where to find them
Academic articles studies that comply with the academic conventions of a discipline, generally peer reviewed and very specific check here
Reviews can be found in magazines, newspapers and academic journals, in depth look at specific books, performing arts (films, plays, music) check here
Books in depth coverage of a topic

check here

Newspapers, Magazines current event news, feature articles, editorials written by journalists, letters to the editor, investigative journalism check here
Government reports and legal documents congressional hearings, court cases, government agency reports, laws, regulations, and policies check here


Tip #5: Know how to dig deeply into a search. Click this link and complete these tutorials here

Tip #6: Other nifty places to find sources:

check the bibliographies for all relevant texts found so far

check reviews, relevant encyclopedias, and specialized database lists here or here

check the UC library catalog, Melyvl, then click request the order the source via Interlibrary loan

use the Citation Linker form when you have a citation for a source you want to order

check the Internet, but make sure you know how to surf the Web effectively, see here

check your friendly reference librarian. Use the Chatbox on the side.





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