Conducting high-quality research requires two basic steps. The first is to start with reliable sources, confirming any information you find with at least two sources. The second is to cite these sources appropriately.
Whenever possible, you want to work from primary sources, such as academic papers written by the authors of original research and interviews with experts. Some resources for finding primary sources include:
- Local and university libraries
- Databases — most public library systems allow cardholders to access databases full of academic work and primary source material. For example, in Georgia, cardholders can access GALILEO, which gives them access to primary source databases like EBSCO. If you live elsewhere, check your local library’s website (or ask a librarian) for research databases that may be available to you.
- JSTOR allows people to read up to 6 articles every month for free.
- Search engines like Google scholar
- Professional and trade organizations
- Government agencies
- Hospitals and medical research centers
- Open access journals
Examples of reliable sources:
- Personal interviews with experts, recorded and transcribed
- Articles in peer-reviewed journals
- Articles and books by experts in a field
- White papers and research from companies’ research and development departments
- Be wary of companies that use white papers for the purposes of marketing their product rather than explaining their technology.
- College and university teaching resources
- Be on the lookout for student work posted at .edu websites — a professor’s explanation of a concept is OK, but not a research paper that has not been published in an academic journal.
- Patent documents
- Legal documents
- Hands-on experience with a device or technology
- News articles written by reputable journalists, especially when the article is discussing events in the news
- However, avoid using news articles as a primary source. Whenever possible, go to the study directly.
Examples of sources that are reliable only in some cases:
- Personal websites: when the owner of a site is a verified expert in the field or the creator of the work being discussed in the article (such as George R. R. Martin’s site as a source for Game of Thrones articles)
- Hobbyist websites: when the article is about something that is by nature a hobby (such as spud guns or LARP)
- Blogs: when the blogger is a verified expert in a subject or a company’s official blogger (such as Google-run blogs for Google products)
Examples of sources that are not considered to be reliable:
- Personal websites that are not owned by established experts in the field
- Casual blogs
- Casual podcasts
- Sites or articles that have a clear bias, unless you are using them as examples of different viewpoints
- Articles in which you find obvious factual errors
If you can’t identify the person or agency responsible for a particular work, it is usually not suitable for use.
No-fly list: Please do not use information from these sources in your articles.
- Wikipedia (Wikipedia is, however, a good spot to dig up other primary sources.)
- Any blog masquerading as a website whose author is unknown OR whose author is not a bona fide expert in their field
- User-generated areas of any website, including WebMD
As you take notes and conduct research, create a list of all your sources. You will hyperlink and credit the source directly in the text. The hyperlink should go directly to the fact or thought cited. Other information that requires a hyperlinked citation includes:
- Statistics and other hard data, with the exception of established scientific fact (like the speed of light, the age of Earth or the temperature at which paper burns)
- Direct quotes
- Attributed quotes
- References to specific studies
- Controversial information
If you find that you are using lots of sourcing language, step back and examine your work. Are the words 100 percent your own and not paraphrased from any source in any way?