How to Find Sources for Writing


Well-Known Member
  • #1
Here's the challenge. You need to write a high school essay or a college paper (or really any paper) and you need to not only find a topic on which to write, but you also need to located credible resources. Your teacher or professor has been around long enough to know what you pulled off the first page of Google and what's garbage, so you better do a good job of using only the best available sources of information. The problem is, doing that isn't the easiest thing in the world. Anyone can pretty much write anything on the internet these days, so what can you do? How can you located credible background information on your topic? How can you determine which source is useful and which is bogus? These are big questions that we need answers to. And that's what I'll hope to address in this post.

Locating Sources for Papers & Essays

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. When I was going for my MBA, I had to write a paper on a topic of my choosing. I chose Steve Jobs. I thought that would be fun. Obviously, Mr. Jobs was well known and very successful, so I figured there would be tons of information on him on the internet. Well, as it turns out, after scouring the web for days and days, I was only able to located the same, or pretty much the same, "article" on Mr. Jobs everywhere. No matter where I looked, it was this paper that someone had originally written and that had been copied and plastered over hundreds of websites. The problem was, it was fairly well written, so I sort of wanted to use it. The other problem was, the paper changed slightly with every iteration. Apparently, others had chosen Steve Jobs as their topic as well, but didn't want to straight up copy someone else's work, so they changed things slightly. Because I was in a jam, I chose one of these papers and decided to rewrite it once more in my own words. While I did a fine job on my paper, I had no idea if what I wrote was accurate or not. I don't think anyone could have proven that one way or another. This story brings a few things to mind. Let's call them rules for writing papers:

Rule #1: When choosing a topic, look for some material on that topic before you commit to it. While the topic may seem interesting and fun to write about, you may not be able to find much information on it at all, which will ruin your day. Choose a few topics and then search for some data. Ultimately go with the one that offers the most amount of available research.

Rule #2: Plan on spending approximately as much time researching your paper as you spend writing it. Many people think that the writing is the most challenging aspect of writing. That's not actually true. It's the research that matters most. If you gather information from many great sources, the time you spend writing will be nearly effortless.


Well-Known Member
  • #2
The fact is, many of us think the internet is going to help tremendously when it comes to writing a paper. The truth of the matter is that it almost gets in the way. Back in the day, we used to have to go to the library to find good sources of information. The books we chose to use as sources had been vetted by authors and editors. If something made it into print, it was almost guaranteed to be valid. Today, that's simply not true. We use the internet so heavily that we mostly forget that what we read can be a complete waste of time. There aren't many paid editors that are worth their salt, when compared to the garbage thrown up every day by others. Much of what we come across is poorly written, irrelevant, or simply inaccurate. What this means is that you, as the author, need to do the jobs of two or more people. Not only do you have to write the paper, you also need to do the research and vet the information you find. That can take a long time. Because of this, it would be in your best interest to located sources of information that have been pre-vetted for accuracy and completeness. You're going to have to spend your time somewhere, so you'd rather spend it looking for good sources rather than looking for sources and then vetting, only to have to look for sources again and repeating everything. And if you ever do manager to write the paper in question, you may have to end up rewriting it due to lack of credibility. Not a good thing.

Again, plan on spending just as much time doing your research and vetting as you spend writing the actual paper. It'll be worth it in the end.

I've got a few ideas that may help you out when searching for sources. Here they are:

The CRAAP Test: This test was developed at California State University and is available for use by you and me. It assists the student or person writing the piece with evaluating the following aspects of a source: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose. Now, if you find sources that are in print, much of this work has already been done for you. But if you're using sources from the internet, you really do need to go down this list to get your ducks in a row.

Use Print Resources: Spending all that time on the CRAAP test can be a huge hassle. It can easily take more time researching and vetting than it would to write your paper. And really, you'll sort of be reinventing the wheel. If you choose to use print sources, you can save tons of time due to the fact that someone else will have been likely to have already done the vetting. There are many trusted newspapers available from which to draw information. They are The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, BBC, The Economist, and more. Just be careful with some of these. While they may have been unbiased in the past, some sections of these papers are heavily biased to the left today. Take some of their commentary with a large grain of salt.

Try Referencing Your Sources: The true test of whether or not you have a valid source is whether or not you can reference it. In almost any publication, such as the paper or essay you're attempting to write, you'll need to reference your sources inside the paper itself and also at the end in a bibliography. You'll need names, dates, places, and page numbers. If you can't readily locate this information, you may not have a valid and useful resource.


Well-Known Member
  • #3
When you write papers, you're going to need to cite your sources. This is just a fact of life. I used to shy away from citations, but thinking back on it, I'm not sure why. I always thought they were a hassle of some sort, but really, they're just lists of information. If you've got the sources from which you pulled your information, you shouldn't have any problem. Your sources need to be complete though.

The reasons citations are required and useful are two-fold. First, citations are extremely helpful in validating any research you may have done. Most research on the planet comes after previous research, so it's important to list that previous research or body of knowledge. Second, if someone were to read what you wrote and would like further information on a specific topic, they could use your citations as a guide. Your papers and essays may not seem like a big deal or very interesting at the time, but as you progress through life, you will likely begin writing things of great importance. At times like these, you'll want to offer as much information on your research as possible.

When it comes to a specific citation style, you'll likely be assigned that when your paper is assigned. You should know which style is required, so when you go about locating sources, keep what you'll need in mind. And again, you'll need to cite your sources within the text of your paper as well as at the end.

There are two primary citation styles in the United States. They are:

MLA: Modern Language Association - used primarily in the humanities as well as in English.

APA: American Psychological Association - used primarily in sciences as well as in psychology.

Beware that these aren't the only two citation styles out there. There are actually quite a few, but these are the most popular. If you are assigned something other than these two, there are ample resources on the internet and in books as to their format and requirements.

Here are a few great resources for both MLA as well as APA citations, both from Purdue: