[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith a wealth of information available – from scholarly journals to blogs – it is important to be selective when choosing sources. Sources for an academic paper may include but are not limited to books, journal articles, newspaper articles, magazine articles, websites, interviews, and speeches. The proper types of sources will strengthen the overall academic quality of the paper while the incorrect type of sources will weaken the academic quality of the paper. The majority of sources used in an academic paper should be scholarly sources. While the internet allows for easy access to information, it important to think critically about the information found on many websites. It is important to use a healthy dose of common sense when choosing sources. Following the guidelines below will help you to make well-informed decisions about your sources.
Academic papers will have both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are those in which the author(s) write about and evaluate their own research. In your academic paper, when you cite the author’s own work, you are citing a primary source. The following is an example demonstrating the use of a primary source: “Knowles (1984) coined the term andragogy to refer to the education of adults and contrasted it with pedagogy, the education of children.” The original work by Knowles (1984) would be in the reference list at the end of the paper. The author(s) will also refer to previously published work. In your academic paper, if you cite these works, you are using secondary sources. When it is not possible to access or obtain primary sources, it is perfectly acceptable to cite secondary sources. The following is an example of a secondary source: “Stevick (as cited in Sharkey, 1994/1995) identifies four stages of personal competence in language learning.” In this case, only the work by Sharkey (1994/1995) would be listed in the reference list.
Most academic papers cite scholarly sources such as articles from academic journals and books published by university presses. Scholarly sources are generally peer reviewed. Peer reviewed journals are edited by experts in the field who carefully select articles that will maintain the academic rigor of the journal. Because they come from within the academic community, they are generally viewed as credible and reliable sources. Most fields of study have dedicated academic journals that are published on a regular basis. Some examples of academic journals include the International Journal of Medicine and Medical Sciences, and the Journal of Engineering and Technology Research. University presses are owned by academic research institutions and publish scholarly works done within the academic community. Well-known examples of university presses include Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, but many universities, large and small, have their own presses. Other scholarly sources may include unpublished master’s theses or doctoral dissertations that are available in your academic institution’s library.
Non-scholarly sources may include newspaper articles, magazine articles, speeches, interviews, websites, and books published by non-academic independent or commercial publishers. It is important to remember to choose newspapers and magazines that have a reputation for solid, unbiased reporting rather than tabloid-style reporting. Examples of reputable newspapers are the New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal. Examples of reputable magazines include National Geographic, Forbes, and Time. However, use these sources selectively in your academic writing. Scholarly sources are generally viewed more favorably in academic writing, but there is a place for non-scholarly sources in some academic work. If you are writing about current events, media, or popular culture, you will cite some non-scholarly sources.
It is of utmost importance that you select reliable sources. When deciding whether or not to use a source, you should ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who is the author?
A reliable source will have one or more named authors. The authors should be known in their field of study. When doing research, check the reference lists at the end of the source. Authors who are frequently cited by multiple sources are generally well-respected and well-known in their field. These are generally very reliable sources.
2. Is it from a peer-reviewed publication?
As discussed earlier, peer-reviewed publications such as academic journals, are reviewed and edited by experts in the field and are generally well-respected in the academic community.
3. What is the publication date?
It is important to be aware of the age of the source you are citing. The older the source, the more likely it is to have outdated or defunct information. Check if there are more recent sources. In some instances, especially if working with primary sources, the information may be old yet still quite reliable, especially if there have been no further studies done on the topic. However, in many cases, you will be able to find recent research on the topic that may support previously published work or may contradict previous findings.
The above questions should be used in evaluating websites as reliable sources of information as well. It can generally be assumed that websites ending in .edu or .gov are more reliable because they are affiliated with an academic or government institution. However, you should always find the name of the author and their credibility as a reliable source. Websites such as wikipedia are not considered reliable sources. Because they can be edited by anyone at anytime, the information obtained on wikipedia may not be factual or accurate. Likewise, it is important to consider the credentials of blog authors before using any blog as a reliable source. Corporate or commercial websites may present biased information. You should be aware of who is doing the writing and whether or not they are presenting a complete and unbiased viewpoint.
When choosing sources, keeping these simple questions in mind will help you to evaluate your research and select only those sources that will strengthen your paper. Sources that are recently published in peer-reviewed publications by well-known authors are best. Sources that have unnamed authors, those that are self-published (such as blogs) by authors who are unknown in their field, or those that may present a bias (such as a corporate or commercial website) are generally unreliable.
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