College students in nearly every field write research papers, including business, sciences, and humanities students. To write a strong research paper, learners conduct research, evaluate information, and synthesize their findings. Gathering and evaluating research sources is the first step to writing a compelling paper.
This guide to college research papers explores common research strategies, tips for evaluating scholarly sources, and online resources for college students. The following sections also highlight popular online research databases, such as Google Scholar, ERIC, and PubMed Central.
Understanding and Finding Sources
While writing college research papers, learners use many types of sources. Students must be able to identify different types of sources and use them effectively together. Most research authorities define three major types of research sources: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Online research databases typically feature all three types of sources.
Primary sources recount information as close as possible to the original source. Examples include statistics and data from original research, speeches and interviews, and court decisions. Primary sources also include original texts such as novels, journals, and letters.
Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. Secondary sources include scholarly journal articles, reports, and documentaries. Most research papers cite both primary and secondary sources. Primary sources often form the basis of a paper, while secondary sources add depth through critical analysis.
Tertiary sources identify and catalog primary and secondary sources. Bibliographies, literature reviews, and indexes are tertiary sources.
10 Search Engines for College Research
Research Tips for College Students
Browsing databases can overwhelm even organized students. Smart research involves refining searches and narrowing down findings. This section highlights tips to help learners perform research efficiently.
Skimming can help you quickly identify key information in research sources. Use skimming to gain a general overview of a source before closely studying specific sections.
Unpaywall legally removes paywalls from academic research sources, making it easier to find information online. Simply install the browser extension and browse open research sources, without logins or access fees.
Find Reliable Sources
Conducting research involves evaluating sources. Typically, the most reliable information comes from websites with the extensions .gov, .mil, .edu, or .org.
Try different search terms to locate varied or specific information sources. Try using quotation marks and various keywords in searches.
Keep Track of Sources
Most types of academic papers require authors to cite all sources and include a bibliography. Students should catalog all sources while writing a research paper.
How to Evaluate a Resource for Academic Research
While writing a research paper, students should use information that is authentic, reputable, and up to date. This section highlights key questions to ask yourself when evaluating research sources.
- What is the purpose of the source?
- Sources that present original research or inform audiences often provide the best information. Sources that seek to persuade or entertain may contain more bias.
- Who is the intended audience?
- Consider whether the information is intended for the general public or for specialists such as researchers and academics. Publications targeting more specialized audiences generally make better research sources.
- Who is the author, and what are their credentials?
- Reputable research sources should be authored by experts in the field. If you’re uncertain about a source, investigate the authors to determine their professional background and qualifications.
- Who is the publisher, and when was it published?
- Academic journals and books should include information about the institution or organization responsible for publication. Also check the publication year, since older sources may contain less relevant information.
- Does the source include biased or objective information?
- Determine whether the author expresses a specific agenda or perspective. Assertions should be backed up by data and statistics.
College Research Resources
To produce a strong college research paper, students should use relevant and reputable sources. The following websites offer academic resources for college students. These resources help users identify the best sources for research papers.
RADAR stands for relevance, authority, date, appearance, and reason. This research technique can help students quickly evaluate research sources and determine their usefulness.
OWL at Purdue
Pudue's Online Writing Lab offers comprehensive resources for academic writing and research. The site features information on common types of papers, academic formatting, and citation practices.
This free research assistant tool compiles, organizes, and cites research sources. Users can arrange information and quickly search and view research sources.
Determine If a Source Is Scholarly
The University of Illinois Library offers this guide to determining a research source's scholarly authenticity. The guide includes evaluation criteria and a flowchart.
SUNY Empire State College's writing center offers this comprehensive guide to identifying and locating research sources. The guide outlines major research sources and techniques.