You can use anything as a source. It could be a film, a book, a map, an idea, a journal article, data, a theory, or an online post. The important thing is to acknowledge the source at the relevant point in your writing, and provide enough identifying detail that would allow your reader to locate it.
When you are writing a research paper at University, the person who designed the assessment task is looking for you to find relevant sources that can be used to discuss the topic they have given you. Instead of asking for your opinion, they are asking for you to find the research of experts who work in that relevant area of discipline.
What is a trusted source?
A trusted source (also known as a preferred source) is one that has been produced by someone with relevant experience in that discipline. Instead of their basic opinion, they are providing theories and research with evidence to support it. This is why most lecturers will be looking for books and peer reviewed journals to be used as resources for assignments.
What sources shouldn’t I use?
An example of a source that isn’t credible is a Wikipedia entry. Wikipedia pages can be contributed to by anybody who wants to post material. This means that the information can be opinion based rather than fact or research based. Many Universities warn against the use of Wikipedia.
When you’re finding trusted or credible sources, you’re researching. Research is important for you because it is one way for you to learn the information you will need to successfully pass your assessment tasks, including essays, reports, and exams. More importantly, it will add to your knowledge on the area you are studying. If you are getting this information from sources that are not trusted nor credible sources, you may be gaining information that is incorrect, and your work will not be of acceptable standard, and your learning of important skills and knowledge will suffer. This knowledge and these skills may also be needed in a working situation sometime in the future.
How do I know if I should use a source?
To evaluate whether a print or online source can be trusted, ask these questions:
If you can ask these questions of a source, and you can still trust it, then it is going to be a good resource for you and for the research you conduct at while studying at university.
- Useful and support your work?
- Is the information appropriate in depth and scope?
- Does the information add to your understanding of the topic?
- Do you require "Primary Sources" that contain new or original material e.g. diaries
- Do you require "Secondary Sources" that contain information that has been analysed or interpreted? e.g. books, journal articles
- Does the information relate to the time frame of your topic?
- What is the publication date of the resource? e.g. a book or webpage
- Does the information give credibility to your work?
- Who is the author?
- Are they known in their field?
- Are they associated with reputable organisations? e.g. a University or official body
- Is the author/publisher credible? Can you verify the information is correct?
- Supported by reliable facts or statistics?
- Beware of information from the Internet.
- Supported by other trustworthy sources?
Most information sources have a certain degree of bias. Ways of judging bias in information sources are:
- extreme viewpoints?
- emotive or derogatory language?
- focus on a particular geographic location?
- contradictory viewpoints to other available information sources.