Finding Sources for Your Essay

How do I find information for my research essay?

Now that you have been assigned a research topic, you will have to go through the process of finding information to support your position.  One of the fastest ways to locate reliable information is to use university or college library databases.  Databases allow you to quickly search through information and compile a usable list.

When doing a search, first write down serval key words directly related to the direction your topic will take.  By using key words you will be able to narrow the possibilities. Otherwise, your selection will be too broad.

For example, if you are researching The Breeding Cycle of the Poison Dart Frog, you may type in the phrase “poison dart frog” with quotations marks followed by breeding (“poison dart frog”  breeding). When using quotation marks, the database will search for that exact phrase.

You may also want to use Google to search for information.  Just a word of caution, when using Google, or any other search engine, you most likely will pull up both reliable and unreliable websites.  It is important to be able to distinguish between the two. Generally speaking, sites that end in .edu or .org tend be more reliable.  That is not to say .com or other sites are not reliable, but for the most part, they are usually set up for business purposes and are not academically focused.  Wikipedia, and other similar sites, provide much information, but are generally not accepted in academic circles. It is always a good idea to check with your professor as to what sources you can use.

The letters after an author’s or writer’s name will also give indication whether the article was written by a professional or not. For example, the letters PhD indicate the author has a doctor of philosophy degree in a particular field, and the letters MS, or MA, or MSE, etc., show the author has a masters degree. If the writer has no letters, we assume they may have a bachelor’s degree of less.  Through experience they may be an expert in their field, however, if they do not have higher education, they may not be accepted in academia.

NOTE: As you read through the information and find quotes or other usable information, make sure to record the names of authors, title of articles, publishers, dates, page numbers, and the form the information was in (Internet, CD, DVD, article, journal, book, etc).  If you keep accurate records, it will save you much time in the end.

Richard Carrigan, MSE

Richard Carrigan has been an educator for over 30 years and a filmmaker for the past ten years. He has experience teaching English as a Second Language in Asia and teaching university students in the United States. He earned his undergraduate degree from Loma Linda University and his graduate degree from Shenandoah University.