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Summer STEM Research: Selecting Sources

Good Sources

The sources you decide to use in making your own analysis reflect your skill as a researcher and your judgment as a writer. If a source won't impress or persuade your audience, use a better one. Ask yourself these questions as you make choices.

Who wrote it? Why should anyone pay attention to this author? 

What is it? Is it an impartial news account, an opinion piece, or a study by a scholar? Is it the kind of source your audience will find appropriate for your purpose?

When was it published? Is it out of date? Or is it a classic that still holds up?

Where was it published? Does it reflect attitudes from a  place?

How was it created? What sources of information did the author rely on? 

Critique, Corroborate, Compare

When you aren't an expert, it may seem daunting to evaluate the work others have published, but a book's table of contents or an article's opening paragraphs will help establish relevance. The language it is written in will help you decide if it is scholarly enough and yet not too highly technical for your purposes. Information given about the author might help you decide how much an authority he or she is. For Web sources, follow links to information "about this site" or to an author's home page, or shorten the URL to everything up to the first slash to see what its parent page looks like. When in doubt, check with your instructor.

Compare: In addition to looking at the quality of individual sources, compare them so that you can see where there are differences and conflicts. Even if you are heading toward a particular conclusion, you want to discuss alternative perspectives so your reader gets the big picture.

Corroborate: If you feel as if you're going out on a limb, try to corroborate the information you want to use in another source. A reference librarian can help you do that.

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