Research Paper: Two words that strike fear into the hearts of many students. Four syllables that create panic, dread, and anxiety.
But they don’t have to.
Writing a research paper takes time and requires effort, but if you have a good topic and credible sources, you’re on your way to a great paper.
Wait…what? Credible sources?
Are you thinking, “What’s the difference? Isn’t one source just as good as another?”
No. Not all sources are created equal.
Think about it. If you want to learn about the current texting and driving laws, would you rather learn about the laws by reading some random guy’s blog who does nothing but rant about the law because he just got a ticket for texting and driving, or would you rather research the law by reading a .gov (government) website?
I think we’d both pick the .gov site.
But .gov sites aren’t the only place to find online credible resources.
Keep reading to learn the 5 best resources to help with writing a research paper.
Why You Should Use Credible Sources When Writing a Research Paper
A research paper is like a jury trial. If you’re an attorney trying to convince the jury your client is innocent, you need hard evidence.
Try convincing a jury that your client is innocent by telling them he wasn’t at the crime scene, and you can prove it because his best friendsaid he wasn’t there.
It isn’t going to work.
Now try convincing the jury that your client is innocent because he was out of town when the crime happened. You have a hotel receipt, plane tickets, and video evidence that he was nowhere near the area at the time of the crime.
This is much more credible and convincing evidence.
When you’re writing a research paper, your arguments are on trial. Your job is to convince your readers and demonstrate your knowledge of the subject.
To do this, you need credible sources written by credible authors such as doctors, researchers, and scholars.
You don’t want to use questionable articles written by the girl who works at the pizza joint down the street or by your best friend’s cousin’s uncle who says he knows a lot about whatever you’re writing about.
Let’s talk about some other sources that won’t help you make your point.
Sources You Shouldn’t Use
The Dictionary: Don’t start your paper with something like, “According to the dictionary, crazy means mentally deranged.” Readers already know what crazy means. There’s no need to define it.
If you’re using complex terms that readers might not be familiar with, it’s fine to define words, but use a more specialized definition from a journal or other credible source.
A dictionary is great for looking up the meanings of words, but your professors won’t consider the dictionary a scholarly source, so it’s best to avoid using it as a source in your research essays.
About.com: About.com is a fine website. It has lots of useful information like fresh ideas to decorate your bathroom, the best new hairstyles, and 10 places to see before you die.
While reading about this stuff can be fun, it’s not relevant information for a research paper. These articles are written by people who are passionate about their subject, but the writers aren’t necessarily experts.
Wikipedia.com: Wikipedia is a fine website, too. It has lots of cool information about lots of cool topics.
The problem with Wikipedia (and other Wikis) is that anyone can write them.
You could create a Wiki about how Steven Spielberg was the first president of the United States. Someone else could read your Wiki online and write a research paper about Spielberg as president.
You could fall victim to this too, and write a research paper using incorrect information. Did you know that at one point, Wikipedia listed the soccer star David Beckham as an 18th century Chinese goalkeeper? Imagine writing that in your paper! I don’t think you’d earn the “A” you were hoping for.
Because you can’t be sure that the information is accurate, it’s best to stay away from Wikipedia.
But if you shouldn’t use the websites I’ve just listed, what resources should you use? Keep reading to find out!
5 Best Resources to Help with Writing a Research Paper
- Your school’s library
- Google Scholar
- Internet Public Library
1. Your School’s Library: This is the best place to begin your research.
The library at your school is an academic library, meaning you’ll find more academic books, journals, and scholarly sources than you will novels and magazines.
One of the best things about researching at your school’s online library is that if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your living room or your dorm room to research, you don’t have to.
As long as you have your library card, you can login and access tons of great resources, such as online databases, e-books, and other research articles.
Don’t tell me you forgot to sign up for your library card! Don’t tell me your paper is due tonight and there’s no time to get a library card now!
Okay, take a deep breath. Don’t panic. There’s still hope.
Even if you don’t have immediate access to your school’s library, I’ve included four other useful resources that are free and don’t require a library card.
2. Google Scholaris a lot like the Google search engine you’re probably used to.
You simply type in what you’re looking for, and you’ll see a list of results. The difference with Google Scholar is that your list of results won’t contain websites trying to sell you a cell phone or articles about how to dress your dog for the holidays.
Google Scholar will produce a list of journal articles, .pdfs, and websites focusing on much more credible and scholarly sources appropriate for a research paper.
(You know, stuff you can actually use!)
3. RefSeek This resource is a search engine designed for students and researchers. It searches online sources but produces more scholarly sites than a standard search engine, such as Google.
One of the great features of RefSeek is that it allows you to search specifically for documents, giving you a better chance of finding credible information to help write your research paper.
4. Internet Public Library (ipl2) This resource allows you to search by subject.
It links to websites, rather than scholarly journals; however, it often links to more credible .gov or .org sites (although you may encounter a few broken links.)
You can also use the handy “Ask an ipl2 Librarian” service. If you aren’t in a rush, you can submit a question to the site’s volunteer librarians, and a professional librarian or grad student will be in touch to help you find the best resources for your topic.
The site says, “Once we have accepted your question, we do our best to answer it promptly. You will receive an answer from us within one week. If you indicate you need a response more quickly, we will try to answer it by that date.
“ipl2 is not a good place to come if you need help right away. We are not a ‘real-time’ service, and it takes us time to read, research, and respond to questions.” Read more here.
5. ERIC (Education Resources Information Center): This database primarily focuses on education, but it also includes a number of related topics, such as social work, psychology, and other social issues. A search will provide a list of journal articles (most full-text).
Searching for Sources in ERIC
If you’re searching for sources in most basic search engines, such as Google Scholar, you usually just type in your keywords and read a list of results. Databases, though, are a bit different. They include the standard search box, but they also include a variety of other options to help narrow your results. Because the searching can be more complex, I’ve included information below to help you get started.
Here’s a quick tutorial to help you begin searching on ERIC.
Step 1: Type in your keywords. In this example, I’ve chosen guns on college campuses.
Make sure you check the box to show only those results available in full text.
Searching for full text articles means you’ll be able to read the entire article immediately. You won’t have to worry about tracking it down at some library across the country, and you won’t have to pay $19.99 to purchase an article you don’t even know if you want to use yet!
Step 2: Review the search results.
- If you are looking for articles written during a specific time frame, check out the left column (Publication Date).
- If you want to read a summary (also known as an abstract) click on the title of the article. (Article titles are hyperlinked in blue in the middle of the screen.)
- If you want to read the article immediately, click on the full text option at the right of your screen. (Articles are usually provided in .pdf format.)
It Really is that Simple
As you can see, there’s no reason to be panic-stricken about writing a research paper.
Use the resources in this post to help you find the most credible and useful sources, and you’ll be on your way to writing an amazing paper.
Once you find the perfect sources, you’ll still need to actually write the paper, so review Writing a Library-Based Research Paper and Research Paper Steps for help with putting together your essay.
Have you finished writing a research paper, but still need someone to review it? Contact our Kibin editors for help!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
- Find credible sources using tools that are designed to find the types of sources you need.
Here are some fantastic resources and tips on how to use them to their fullest extent:
Librarian/Digital Media Specialist/Teacher
– Tell one of these people your research topic and ask them to point you towards useful sources. Chances are that they know more about what’s available about your particular topic than you do. Depending on the size of your school, you may have a subject area librarian for the particular type of research you are doing. Some universities, for instance, have specialist librarians for topics like music, art, and humanities.
Tip: When asking your librarian or teacher, just be sure to be tactful. Remember: librarians are there to help, but they won’t do all your research for you.
– These journals are a great way to find cutting edge research on your topic. Academic journals add credibility and professionalism to a paper. They work well for both humanities and scientific papers. Most schools/universities have a subscription to a large database of academic journals. Some commonly used databases are JSTOR and EBSCO Host. If you don’t know what types of services your school subscribes to, ask your teacher/librarian about them.
Another great way to access academic papers is Google Scholar. It is a search tool that finds scholarly articles–academic journals, patents, theses, court proceedings, and more. Google Scholar displays how many times an academic piece of literature was cited, which is a rough numerical indicator of how influential the research was. Google Scholar also has link under each posting to help you find related articles.
Microsoft has a competitor to Google Scholar that is very similar, Microsoft Academic Search. Microsoft’s tool works particularly well for technical papers in fields such as physics, mathematics, biology, and engineering.
– Books are still one of the best ways to find credible information about a source. Some fields such as the humanities prefer their students use books for sources rather than websites, since books typically contain more detailed information (and perhaps more in-depth thinking) than websites do. Books can be found on your school or public library website. Type in keywords related to your topic in the search field, and see what kinds of literature comes up. Write down the call number of the book so that you can find it within your library. Ask your librarian for help if you’re not sure how your library is organized.
Google has another service, Google Books, that will help you find books related to your topic. Just type your research topic into the field and Google Books will provide you with a list of relevant books. Once you click on a book you like, Google Books will give you a preview of the book and information related to buying the book or finding it in your library.
– Websites are sources you should approach with caution. Some experts publish great information on the Internet, but there’s a lot of bad information out there as well. The trick is to weed out the unreliable information. The section entitled “Evaluating sources for credibility” is all about that process. Here, we’ll discuss some great resources that will help you find good information.
Tip: Multipurpose search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo) aren’t necessarily trying to provide you with the best academic results. They help people with a lot of things (shopping, searching for flights, comparing restaurants). You don’t want all of these sorts of results to get mixed up in your research!
Here are some tools that help you find information for a particular field of interest:
|Subject||Name of tool||Comments|
|Medical||PubMed||Searchable database of academic medical literature; managed by the US National Library of Medicine.|
|Medical||GoPubMed||A feature-rich compilation of academic medical literature.|
|Medical||Medline Plus||Easy-to-read guides and videos; not as technical as other medical search engines; managed by the National Institutes of Health,|
|Humanities||JURN||A curated search engine for humanities researchers.|
|Humanities||Project Muse||A database of over 200 non-profit publishers.|
|Economics||NBER – National Bureau of Economic Research||Searchable database of economic papers.|
|Crime||National Criminal Justice Reference Services||A database of articles about issues pertaining to the justice system, including court cases, crime prevention, drugs, etc.|
|General||OAIster||Feature-rich search tool for a variety of different sources; managed by the OCLC.|
|General||Refseek||A powerful, general-purpose search engine that finds websites, academic papers, books, newspapers, and more. The site has a variety of features that help you narrow down your search.|
|General||Sweet Search||A search engine crafted specifically for students. Every website that shows up as search result has been hand-picked by research experts.|
|General||iSeek||An education-focused general search engine with helpful tools to narrow down your search|
|General||ipl2||The site contains a search engine and an index of helpful, credible sites arranged by topic.|
|General||EasyBib Research (Beta)||EasyBIb research makes the bibliographies on our site searchable, so you can look at sources about your topic that other students are using.|
|Chemistry||PubChem||Contains academic chemistry information; managed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.|
|Philosophy||PhilPapers||A database of academic papers related to philosophy.|
|Science||Science.gov||A resource of scientific papers and information; overseen by the US government.|
|Science||Scirus||A search engine geared towards scientific information.|
|Science||Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ)||A database of scholarly scientific information.|
|Statistics||US Census Bureau||Statistics in the US, arranged topically (Education, Business, Agriculture, etc.).|
|Statistics||CIA World Factbook||Statistics, reports, maps, history, and other information about 267 countries.|
Tip: Many schools have online topic pages, where the school’s librarians have grouped together helpful resources dedicated to a particular topic like chemistry, history, or religious studies. The LibGuides at Rice University is one example.
1) A note on large search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo)
- Use Google when you are doing preliminary research or looking for a particular source
- In other cases, you’re probably better off using a more academically-oriented source.
As far as research is concerned, Google is a double-edged sword. (The pros/cons of Google apply to other major search engines such as Bing and Yahoo as well.)
First, the benefits of Google’s search engine: It’s fast and provides you with a lot of information.
But the list of negatives is weighty:
Many of Google’s search results are biased and non-academic.
Several of the websites that appear in Google’s results are written by businessmen who are trying to sell you something. They aren’t interested in presenting you with unbiased data.
Google’s search results are tailored to you
(based on your past browsing history, your location, the sites you’ve visited previously, etc.). The problem with this individualization of search results is that Google is not providing you with the best information, it’s giving you what it thinks you’ll click on. Those may be two separate things.
Google’s results are focused on information available on the internet space that is easily accessed.
There is a large amount of great information available on the “invisible web” that Google cannot find. The invisible web consists of sites that are not linked to externally, which makes them hidden from Google’s searching and indexing software.
For these reasons, we have a couple of reservations about using Google’s search engine for research purposes. To help, we’ve drafted a couple general rules about when and when not to use Google.
Use Google’s search engine…
- When you’re doing preliminary research (assessing the depth and breadth of your topic).
- When you know of a specific source, and you just need to find it on the Internet.
Try using another resource other than Google’s search engine…
- When you want to find an academic article.
- When you’re looking for a primary source.
- When you’re looking for a technical paper.
2) A note on Wikipedia
- Information on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone–not necessarily an expert.
- Use Wikipedia as a starting point for your research.
- Check Wikipedia’s references at the bottom of the page. Those sources are more likely to be credible than Wikipedia itself.
Like Google’s search engine, Wikipedia is a mixed bag. It provides a great deal of relevant information in a very fast manner, but that information is not necessarily credible. Content on Wikipedia can be edited by anyone–not necessarily an expert or credible author.
The editors at Wikipedia have come a long way in policing the site for bad posts and flagging items without citations; but you should always be suspect of information on the site because of its public nature.
Therefore, Wikipedia is best used at the start of your research to help you get a sense of the breadth and depth of your topic. It should never be cited in an academic paper.
Another reason why Wikipedia should not be cited in an academic research paper is that it aims to be like an encyclopedia–a source of reference information, not scholarly research or primary or secondary sources. One must delineate between general reference for general knowledge and scholarly sources for in-depth knowledge and research. Facts from reputable encyclopedias or similar sources can be used to supplement a paper, but keep in mind that these sources won’t contain any juicy analysis or scholarly study.
Perhaps the most useful part of a Wikipedia page is the “References” section at the bottom, which contains links to relevant sites that are often more credible than the Wikipedia page itself. Use a discerning eye when viewing these citations and apply the best practices of evaluating credible information (see “Evaluating sources for credibility”).