Reliable Sources

When researching, you will need to identify reliable sources (both print and digital) and be aware of where you’re getting your information from. Below are some questions to ask yourself before you commit to using the text in your project:

  • What kind of text is it—a newspaper, an official website, a book, a magazine, a scholarly article in a peer-reviewed journal? Avoid Wikipedia or other sources that anyone can edit.
  • Can you find who authored or published the work and when it was published?
  • Does the author seem to be an authority on the subject they’re writing on? How do you know this? What are their credentials?
  • What organization is the author or this piece associated with? Could it be written from a biased point of view?
  • Does the piece present an argument to persuade readers or does it purely present information? Does the author use a lot of loaded (or emotional) language?
    • Remember, just because the piece aims to persuade does NOT mean it isn’t credible—it just means that you should be especially aware of where the author is getting their information.
  • Does the author use citations? Is it clear where the author has gotten their information?

For online sources, the domain name (or end of the URL) can sometimes provide a clue as to the webpage's origin:

  • .edu—sites associated with educational programs or institutions
  • .gov—sites associated with the U.S. government
  • .org—sites associated with organizations (non-profits)
  • .com—commercial sites (for profit, typically)
  • .net—network infrastructures
  • .uk, .fr, .jp—sites based specifically in countries outside the U.S.

Reading Strategically

A big challenge of research is narrowing down your sources, but how can you do that without reading through them? Below are some tips for deciding on what texts you want to use without having to read them cover to cover.

  • First, use the questions above to determine whether it is a credible source or not.
  • If you found the article using one of the Miami University library databases, take a look at the keywords associated with the article—they might help you to decide.
  • If it’s an academic article, be sure to read the abstract (the short summary at the beginning of the article), which should give you a basic idea of what the article’s main argument and basic points are.
  • Read the introduction and the conclusion to the article before you sit down to read the entire text. While they don’t offer everything about the text, they will be able to help you decide if you’re going to use them or not.
  • Approach the article with some questions of your own—if you’re consciously seeking certain answers, it will help you to focus on the text more closely.
  • BONUS: If you find a great source that you plan on using a lot, look at the works cited or resources the original article uses and look into some of those sources for your own work!

Taking Notes

When you’re reading through sources, take notes on anything that catches your interest or might be important to your project. However, to avoid accidental plagiarism, write your notes in your own words. If you DO copy directly from the text, be sure to quote the author’s original language in your notes and record the page numbers, so you can correctly cite it later.

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