Selecting the Best Sources for Your Research Paper Help
Selecting the Best Sources for Your Research Paper
Now that you have collected information from a wide variety of sources—books, magazine articles, reference texts, and the Internet—how do you choose between them and evaluate what you have? How can you tell which sources are the best for your research paper without having to read through everything that you've found? This lesson will show you what to look for in your materials and how to make the most of what you have.
Primary sources are the most valuable sources of information for any topic or research paper. Even though some of the primary resources you have collected may not seem especially valuable (they might be extremely dated, slightly damaged, or written from a very narrow perspective), they are vital to your work. Primary sources, unlike secondary sources, offer you
- an immediate perspective about an event that happened during the time period.
- opinions that are candid and unique.
- an opportunity for you to draw your own conclusions.
- raw data that may not have been previously listed, collected, or compiled.
In some cases, you may also be the first person to review a primary source. For example, let's say that in your research, you had access to a recently found personal diary of President John F. Kennedy that recounted the days and events before his assassination. Of course, this is highly unlikely, but if it existed, it would reveal information that was not included in previous histories or biographies.
Other Primary Source Materials
Unique primary sources that are often overlooked can also include:
- Personal diaries, chronicles, or notes from a particular time period
- Newspaper articles from a particular time period
- Physical, geographical, or topographical maps
- Official documents—such as the census or other collections of statistics
- Paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs
Although you may not typically think of consulting such diverse sources, all of them are excellent sources of information. Personal diaries contain feelings of individuals and might not be included in books. Newspaper articles from a particular time period do not have the benefit of hindsight and may include key eyewitness accounts or testimonies of events. Maps provide a physical portrait of a specific place at a particular point in history, as well as information about how people in the past perceived the physical world. Official documents serve as legal statements of historical events, people, and places. Any visual sources—paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs—also capture a situation at a precise moment and record it for posterity.
Becoming a Source Detective
Primary sources may be harder to locate than other sources, but they are well worth it. The beauty of working with primary sources—once you've found them—is that you, as the researcher, have to interpret them. You are not reading a famous historian's opinion of a situation; you are analyzing raw writing, visuals, and data and coming to your own conclusions. Sometimes, you will really feel like a detective poring over information as you piece together visuals of ancient historical sites or human experiences from a distant past. Naturally, primary sources give your work and research an authority and uniqueness that make your paper stand out.
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