There are three reasons for finding sources for your research:
- To provide yourself with background information on your topic.
- To support your own argument or findings.
- To provide a counterpoint to your own argument or findings.
With these three reasons in mind, it is important that you find sources that you can reliably use to construct your argument. To find reliable sources, consider asking the “5 Ws and H”: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
- WHO is the author? What makes him or her qualified to discuss this topic? What else has this author published? You may need to do some research to find out more about the author.
- WHAT does their list of references look like? Authors of reliable sources will take the time to include a properly formatted, thorough list of references. Look at the quantity of sources they cite, but also investigate the quality of those sources. A source whose entire argument is based on unreliable sources is itself unreliable.
- WHEN was the source created? In general, more recent sources are more reliable, particularly in the sciences. However, in other fields, such as the humanities, the oldest sources may be most authoritative.
- WHERE did you find the source? Does the source appear in an academic medium, such as an online journal database or a college library? Or does it appear in a non-academic medium, such as Facebook or a website with advertisements and flashing lights?
- WHY was the source created? Is the author writing to inform, to persuade, or to entertain the readers? Factual information should come from sources with an informative purpose.
- HOW is the source relevant to your topic? Only choose sources that you will actually be able to use in your research. Do not use an irrelevant source simply because you need to satisfy a certain number of sources.
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