Finding and evaluating sources. So you've chosen a topic for your research paper and you're ready to start doing research. Where would you look for information? What sources can you use? There are many different kinds of sources. First, let's look at primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are firsthand sources. They were told or written by someone who was actually a part of the events. For example, if a house is robbed and we talk to the people who live in the house, they're a primary source. They were actually there, a secondary source is written by someone who is reporting on an event that happened to someone else. For example, if the newspaper writes a story about the robbery, the story is a secondary source, both primary and secondary sources can be used in academic writing. We can also think about scholarly sources and popular sources. Scholarly sources are sources used by professionals and educators. The people who write these articles and books know a lot about their subject matter and have studied it for years. They published in academic journals that are well respected. On the other hand, popular sources are stories that we read every day often for entertainment, such as sports and fashion. In academic writing, it's important to use scholarly sources and to avoid popular sources. We can also think about print and electronic sources, books, journals and other printed materials are print sources. And of course online sources or articles from academic databases are electronic sources. Don't limit yourself to only what you can find online. There are still lots of good academic sources on paper. So how do you find good sources? You might be thinking if I need information, I'll just google it. But google is not a scholarly database. It might lead you to reliable articles and information or it might not. There's too much available on google and most of the articles have not been checked for accuracy or reliability, you need a more trustworthy source. So how do you find good sources? One way is through a library database students in a university or college have access to this type of database through their campus library. These databases have access to millions of scholarly articles written by knowledgeable people in many different fields. Public libraries also have databases and catalogs that you can use. So if you're not currently a university student, a public library is a good resource. Depending on your topic, you may also be able to find information in reliable news sources. I mentioned earlier that google is not the best way to find sources. However, there is one google site that you can use google scholar or scholar.google.com. The sources linked on google scholar are from academic journals and are more reliable overall than those on regular google. Some sources are not very reliable and should be avoided. In addition to google sites like yahoo.com, bing.com, reddit.com, ask.com, blogs, social media and popular magazines are not good sources. The articles you find there are often written quickly and are intended for entertainment or advertising purposes, not for scholarly research. Also don't use Wikipedia.org when you're looking for academic sources while much of the information on Wikipedia is accurate, some is not and you can't always tell which is which. If readers see that your information came from Wikipedia, their opinion of your paper may immediately go down. In fact, many professors specifically forbid using Wikipedia as a source. When you find an article or website that looks good, you need to evaluate it. Here are some questions you should ask to make sure it's a reliable source who wrote the article. What are the author's credentials? Does the author have a strong background in the subject? For example, if you're reading about the causes of unemployment, someone with a PhD in economics is probably more reliable than an English teacher. Next ask who published the article and who sponsors the website where you found the article? Is it a university government agency or other reliable source? Or is it a group that has a particular stake in the issue? If so, the website may have biases that make the information unreliable. For example, an article about why the government should give economic help to farmers that appears on the website of an agricultural organization might be biased in favor of the farmers. Also ask what the writers sources are? Can you tell where the information came from? If not, that's a problem. Is the article up to date? An article about recent developments in cell phone technology that was written in 2005 would clearly not be helpful today. Is the information accurate as far as you can tell? Does it fit in with information you found in other reliable sources? And finally, is the writing sloppy if they're spelling or grammar mistakes or if the article overall looks like it was written by someone who didn't take the time to do it? Well, it's probably not a good source. As you look at an article, you can also check for these signs of a reliable source. Formal academic language in text citations, showing the source of the writers information and a bibliography or works cited page listing more complete information about the sources. Let's look at an example. A student's assignment is to write a paper on the general topic of drug trafficking. The student wrote this research question, is U.S Customs using effective techniques to prevent drug trafficking in airports? The student has found two articles on the Internet that might have information. But are these good sources for a research paper? Here's the first one, look at the name of the website, find law and try to figure out who wrote this website and what their purpose was. Do you see anything that gives you a clue? If you read the article, it seems to be giving advice maybe talking to someone who's in trouble with the law for drug trafficking. On the right side, there are resources for finding a lawyer and it mentions criminal charges and some other crimes. This seems to be an advice page for people who are in trouble with the law or maybe have been arrested. Another thing you can look for is usually at the bottom or top of the page. Most websites have an about or about us link and you can read more about the company there. If you click on the about us link, you can see this company's history, you find that it's a marketing company for law firms. It's a business that tries to help lawyers find clients that makes this an unreliable source. It's not meant to be a scholarly journal and you wouldn't want to use this as a source for your academic paper. Here's the second article. See if you can find out who it's by and what their purpose is? This one was posted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. The United Nations is a reliable and well respected organization. They do a lot of research on different topics. So this article is probably well researched. It's written for the purpose of educating people. This seems like a reliable source. If we look at the about UNODC link, we see that there's a lot of information including an annual report. If an organization or company has to provide annual reports, it shows that they are accountable to somebody. Someone monitors what they do and how they spend their money. That adds to the credibility of this source. If you didn't know about the United Nations, you would want to look at this report and find out more about the organization before you use them as a source. Here's an example of the most academic source. This is an article from a scholarly journal that was found on google scholar. Articles in these journals are usually quite long so they'll take longer to read. But they have more reliable information and they'll make your research paper stronger. Most academic articles have an abstract at the beginning that tells you what the article will be about, you can read the abstract to find out if the rest of the article will give you the information that you need. If it's not what you need, you don't have to waste time reading the rest of the article. In summary, if you search for sources using reliable ways and ask questions to evaluate your sources carefully, you'll find the information you need to write a successful research paper.