• We live in a world where a wealth of information
is available to us, usually just a few clicks away.
There is so much information out there, that it
can be overwhelming to sort through it all and
choose strong sources for an essay.
Questions to Ask
• What kind of information are you looking for?
• Do you want facts? Opinions? News reports?
Research studies? Analyses? Personal
• Where would be a likely place to look?
• Which sources are likely to be most useful to
you? Libraries? The Internet? Academic
periodicals? Newspapers? Government records?
• If, for example, you are searching for
information on a current event, a reliable
newspaper like the New York Times will
be a useful source.
• Are you searching for local history? Then a
county library, government office, or local
newspaper archive is likely to be the most
• Want to know about commercial products?
Will those companies have websites with
information? Or would it be better to look at a
third party information about those products
(like Consumer Reports, Good
• Do you want some scholarly
interpretations of literature? If so,
academic journals and books are likely to
have what you’re looking for.
• Are you searching for statistics on some
aspect of the U.S. population? Then,
start with documents such as United
States Census reports.
More Questions to Ask
• How much information do you need?
• How many sources of information are you
• This is NOT just limited to how many sources
your teacher tells you to use!
• You may find that you need to use more.
• It’s never a bad to do too much research!
• What sources will give you both sides of an
Types of Sources
• Many students begin their research by doing a quick Google
search. The Internet may be the most convenient place to begin
your research, but it is not always the best.
• Print Sources
• Novels, collections of shorter works (narratives, plays, poems, etc.)
• Reference books
• Books with editors
• Books by organizations
• Handbooks & Manuals
• Other documents: pamphlets, handouts, class notes, brochures, etc.
• Books & Textbooks: Books come in a multitude of topics.
Because of the time it takes to publish a book, they usually
contain more dated information than will be found in
journals and newspapers.
• Newspapers: Predominately covering the latest events
and trends, newspapers contain very up-to-date
information. Newspapers report both information that is
factual in nature and also share opinions.
Generally, however, they will not take a “big picture”
approach or contain information about larger trends.
• Academic and Professional Journals: Academic and
professional journals are where to find the most current
research in industry, business, and academia. Journal
articles come in several forms, including literature reviews,
articles on theories and history, or articles on specific
processes or research.
• Government Reports and Legal Documents: The
government releases information intended for its own use
and for public use. These types of documents can be an
excellent source of information. Most government reports
and legal documents can now be accessed online.
• Press Releases and Advertising: Companies and special
interest groups produce texts to help persuade readers to act
in some way or inform the public about some new
• Flyers, Pamphlets, Leaflets: While some flyers or pamphlets
are created by reputable sources, because of the ease in
which they are created, many less-than-reputable sources also
produce these. They are useful for quick reference or very
• Multimedia: Printed material is certainly not the only option
for finding research. Also consider media sources such as radio
and television broadcasts, interactive talks, and public
Types of Sources
• Electronic Sources & Websites
• Multimedia (audio recordings, films, etc.)
• Government (local, state, & national levels)
• Other Electronic Sources
• Library Databases & Subscription Services
• Academic Search Premier, PsychARTICLES, JSTOR, LexisNexis, etc.*
• An excellent, convenient source of information for academic essays!
Note: These often contain electronic copies of print materials. If there
is a PDF file available of the source, always view the PDF version to
view the page numbers of the article.
• Websites: Most of the information on the Internet is distributed via
websites. Websites vary widely in quality of information and validity of
• Blogs: A type of interactive journal where writers post and readers
respond. They vary widely in quality of information and validity of
sources. For example, many prestigious journalists and public figures
may have blogs, which may be more credible of a blog than most.
• Message boards, discussion lists, and chat rooms: Discussion lists,
chat rooms, and message boards exist for all kinds of disciplines both in
and outside of the university. However, plenty of boards exist that are
rather unhelpful and poorly researched.
• Multimedia: The Internet has a multitude of multimedia resources
including online broadcasts and news, images, audio files, and
• Research isn't limited to published material that
can be found on the Internet or at the library.
Many topics you choose to write on may require a
different kind of approach--collecting information
directly and including interviews, observations, and
surveys to support your ideas.
• Many different types of primary research exist. Some common
ones used for writing classes include:
Interviews: A conversation between two or more people in
which one person (the interviewer) asks a series of questions
to another person or persons (the interviewee).
Surveys & Questionnaires: A process of gathering specific
information from people in a systematic way with a set series
of questions. Survey questions usually have pre-specified or
Observations: Careful viewing and documenting of the world
Original Research Example
Brianne wants to research a proposed smoking ban in public
establishments in Lafayette, Indiana. She begins by going to
the library and then searching online. She finds information
related to smoking bans in other cities around the United
States, but only a few limited articles from the local
newspaper on the ban proposed in Lafayette. To
supplement this information, she decides to survey twenty
local residents to learn what they think of the proposed
smoking ban. She also decides to interview two local
business owners to learn how they think the ban may affect
their businesses. Finally, she goes and observes a town hall
meeting where the potential ban is discussed.
• It is extremely important to evaluate the
quality of the sources you use!
• This means that you need to make sure the
information in that source is credible and
• To do this, you will need to look at each of
your sources carefully to make sure it’s
• The quality of your writing is only as good
as the quality of the sources you use!
• Here are some things to check for in a source:
• Check for signs of bias
• Does the author or publisher endorse political or
religious views that could affect objectivity?
• Is the author or publisher associated with a
special-interest group (such as Greenpeace or the
NRA) that might present only one side of an issue?
• Are alternative views presented and addressed?
How fairly does the author treat opposing views?
• Does the author’s language show signs of bias?
• Is the language emotionally charged?
• Assess arguments
• What is the author’s main argument?
• How does the author support this claim
• with ample facts and statistics?
• with anecdotes?
• with overly emotional examples?
• Is the information consistent with other sources?
Has it been used fairly?
• Does the author note where facts and statistics
• Does the author consider opposing arguments and
refute them fairly?
Evaluating Web Sources
• Web sources are especially important to evaluate
because anyone can create a website.
• Look for an author.
• Is there an author? You may need to do some
clicking and scrolling to find the author’s name
(look at the top and bottom of the page.
Sometimes, it’s on a different page entirely).
• If there is an author, can you tell whether he/she
is knowledgeable and credible? When the author’s
qualifications aren’t listed on the site itself, you
may have to do some digging to find out more
about that person.
Evaluating Web Sources
• Who, if anyone, sponsors the website? You can
usually find this information at the bottom of
the home page.
• What does the URL tell you? The domain name
extension often indicates the type of group
hosting the site.
Evaluating Web Sources
• Purpose and audience
• Why was the website created?
• To sell a product?
• To inform readers?
• To argue a position?
• Who is the intended audience?
• Is that audience appropriate for your purposes?
• For example, you wouldn’t want to use a educational
website meant for children when you are writing an
essay for college about American government for your
political science class.
Evaluating Web Sources
• How current is the website? Check for the date
of publication or the latest update, often
located at the bottom of the home page or at
the beginning or end of a page.
• How current are the links? If many of the links
no longer work, the site may be too dated for
• Hacker, Diana, and Barbara Fister. “Tips for Evaluating
Sources.” Research and Documentation Online. Bedford St.
Martin’s. n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
• “Research Overview.” Purdue Owl. 2011. Web. 1. Nov. 2011.