Beginning to Research

Read your assignment carefully.

  • What are you being asked to do? (analyze, argue, compare, review, etc.)
  • What types of sources are you supposed to use?
  • How many sources do you need to find?

If these questions aren’t in your assignment description, ask your teacher! Some papers may require looking at one source in depth. Others may ask you to use multiple sources to enter an ongoing debate. Before you start researching, figure out what you need.

Deciding how to use your sources

Once you’ve found your source(s), think about what each one will do in your paper.

Ask yourself if the source you want to use:

  • Provides background information about your topic?
  • Addresses a particular problem or issue?
  • Challenges your own assumptions?
  • Refines your thinking?
  • Is from an authority on your subject?
  • Supports your own ideas?
  • Is something you disagree with and why?

Sources play a role in your paper and can often be used for more than one thing. Before you start to write, have a clear sense of what you are doing with each source and why.

Don't forget your own role!

Remember to use your own voice to comment on the sources.  Your voice is integral to helping readers understand how and why you are using sources, and essentially what conclusions they should come to about your topic.  Your own voice and new ideas should be the main component of any academic paper.

*Adapted from the Harvard College Writing Program

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