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Research essays: Using sources

Research essays: Using sourcesYou can use all sorts of media for research. Here are some tips on using online, print, and interview sources.

Keep in mind that you can probably use any kind of media (books, movies, websites, TV shows, and so on) as long as it is relevant to your topic.


The Internet can be a great place to start researching. You can get general information from sites like Wikipedia, but these (or other encyclopaedias) shouldn’t be your only sources. Wikipedia links to other sources at the end of articles, which are good places to find further information.

Newspaper websites can be useful, especially if they have old issues from previous decades or point you towards recent research on your topic by, for example, reviewing a new book.

When using search engines, it’s good to use a variety of search terms. If you’re researching US involvement in WWII, you could search: “US WWII”, “President Roosevelt”, “atomic bomb”, etc. As you research you’ll find new ideas which help focus your research.

Be careful when quoting websites. Whilst lots have quality information (especially sites ending in .edu;; .gov; or .org), some .com sites, especially personal websites, are less accurate. Remember, always question the validity of your source, even official university or government websites.


Although the Internet is a large source of information, don’t forget about books, journals, and newspapers. In fact, most in-depth academic information is only published in print form.

Nowadays, finding printed resources is quite easy. Most libraries have a searchable online catalogue. Use several different search terms, just like searching on the web.

Once you find a source, you’ll want to be a picky reader. You usually don’t need to read the whole book, so use the contents and the index to find key words that you’re looking for.

Try to skim-read, looking for key information, until you find what you’re looking for. Then, read more carefully.


Interviewing experts in the field is a great way to research a topic. If you have the chance, you will want to get the most you can out of it. Asking specific questions is essential: if you ask them to tell you everything, you may get too much of what you don’t need and too little of what you do.

Take notes during your interview, and ask for clarification when you need to. Record the interview if you can, but keep notes at the same time, just in case.

Writing – and editing

Now that you have researched, you should be able to answer your original question. Or, you might find your research leads you to different, better questions. Once you have your answers, crack on and write your paper.

Your answer, or your thesis, will be the argument that your research will support. This is different from your topic. Your topic might be the beginnings of WWII, but your thesis would be a statement like “Hitler is solely responsible for starting WWII.” Remember; use your sources to back up your thesis.

It’s up to you how you present your argument, but remember: you are trying to prove your thesis, and it’s most important to show that your sources support your argument.

Finally, make sure you read over your essay – you might catch simple spelling mistakes, but you might also realize that your logic doesn’t make sense. Even better, have a friend or a teacher read it – if they can follow your argument, you have a winning essay.

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