How To Find Credible Sources for Your Research Paper

How To Find Credible Sources for Your Research Paper

Every research paper has a thesis. And that thesis is backed up by points that are made throughout the paper. Those points are the result of research – ergo, the term “research” paper.

One of the things that students often struggle with is this research part. It is time-consuming, and they do have to take careful notes, including listing the source details, so that they can give credit and not be charged with plagiarism.

But before they even begin to take those notes, students must find those resources. And this is key to a good research paper- sources that an instructor will see as “credible.” In other words – sources that are appropriate for the academic level of the student. 

So, let’s unpack what resources should be considered “credible.”

Primary Vs. Secondary

Here’s an example of primary vs. secondary:

  • A journal kept by a Civil War general = primary source. Right “from the horse’s mouth,” as the saying goes.

  • A book about the battles that this Civil War general was in = secondary source. This was written by someone who has studied the Civil War, not actually experienced it.

High school students usually use secondary sources unless told otherwise. And these are deemed credible, so long as they are not encyclopedias or Wikipedia.

College students will do well to use as many primary sources as possible. When too few can be found on certain topics, then secondary sources will also have to be used. But the authors of such sources need to be researched as well. Going back to the Civil War topic, if a book has been written by a history professor who has taught a class on The Civil War for several years, chances are that book is a credible secondary source. He is considered an expert.

Looking for Credible Sources

  1. Start with the Obvious

    There are online databases of published research papers. You can search by your topic and academic level. Obviously, you will not be using those papers. But you can look at the resources that were used, and this will give you a start point to check them out. Just be certain that the cited resources are less than 10 years old – the more recent, the better.

  2. Go to Recognized Academic and Scholarly Databases

    Sites like LexisNexis, EBSCO for scholarly papers on all topics are always considered credible and, indeed, superior. And for journals, there are Oxford Academic, SAGE Publishing, Cornell University Library, and Google Scholar.

  3. Using News Sources

    There are certain news sources that are generally considered credible – The New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, etc. But stick to the news stories that use credible sources for their basis – actual behaviors and words of people within the story. Watch the “Op Eds” and editorials, however. These are opinion pieces, and the goal is to persuade, not to present facts.

  4. Your Campus Library

    This does sound a bit “outdated,” given the vast amount of information that can be found online, but going to your physical library and conducting searches can result in a treasure trove of resources. Libraries are far more sophisticated for researchers today, and many of them are actually online.

  5. Using Websites

    Again, the question will always be credibility. The most reliable will be those with an “.org” or “.gov” URL and usually are government and established educational sites. Even so, some .org sites still have purposes that may not be entirely factual in nature.

  6. Use the CRAAP Test

    This acronym stands for currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Let’s briefly describe these:

  • Credibility: Does a piece have depth? Does it explore a topic completely, and does it have its own list of credible resources? Who is the author, and what is their background?
  • Relevancy: This is related to the date of publication of the article or book. Ideally, the resources you use should be within the past 5 years, 10 at the most.
  • Authority: This refers directly to the author of the piece. Read information about the author in the preface to books, in the author bios of journal articles. What is the author’s education and academic background? Remember the Civil War example at the beginning of this article.
  • Accuracy: Can you check the accuracy of the source content? Reliable resources will provide facts and data to support the points being made. You can check out those resources quite easily to be certain that they are current and come from other reliable sources.
  • Purpose: Every piece of writing has a purpose, often called a thesis. If the purpose of a piece is highly persuasive, it is possible that any resources that contradict the thesis may have been eliminated. As you read a piece, how biased does it appear to be? If a lot, then you may need to do a bit of research on the opposing side and check out the credibility of those sources.

Work Well Worth It

Your course grades are incredibly important. And a big part of those grades will be your scores on those assigned research papers. Finding and using credible resources will be a critical part of a good paper grade, so do the work to ensure that they are good ones.