Resources For A Research Paper

Research paper sources can be difficult to find – especially if you want the good ones.

And we want good ones. One of the exercises we often have our students in our online study skills courses do (you can find info on them here) is to think about your teacher having to read all of those papers. If you are a high school English teacher and you’ve assigned 120+ students to write a 10 page research paper, how many do you have to read?

And – knowing how high school students often write – think about how much fun that will be. Sure, some of those papers will be interesting. But there will be some stale ones, too.

Don’t be the student who turns in the stale research paper. It’s a sure way to miss the success level you desire. Instead, find some creative ways to make your research paper interesting. Research papers can be fascinating and enjoyable, especially when you dig up unique and noteworthy research paper sources.

Here are six quick tips that will help you do fast, effective research, and find great research paper sources that will set you apart from your classmates.

1. Start with Wikipedia

A few years ago, this would have been heresy. I’m aware of that.

But I’m not suggesting you should quote the Wikipedia article. We realize that there may still be some negative realities that come with a site that anyone can edit. Sure, occasionally some goof will get some weird information published on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, though, is more accurate than any other encyclopedia.

As hard as that may be to believe, it’s been tested and found true.

But that’s not even why we’re going to Wikipedia. We go only for two real reasons: first, it’s a nice overview of whatever topic you’re trying to research (let’s say you’re studying  learning styles). The Wikipedia article will give you most of the big ideas associated with the topic, as well as link out to other ideas that may be similar. Starting here helps you get your bearings in the subject. After all, you’re stepping into a conversation that has been going on for years and years.

Second – and most importantly – we’re after the citations and sources at the bottom. Wikipedia frequently cites the most important research paper sources for you. It just makes sense to start here. (In our example article – learning styles – there are nearly 50 sources cited)

2.  Go to the library (a great place for research paper sources)

After you’ve dug through your Wikipedia article, the next step is an easy one – go to the library. Unless you’re studying something that has recently come into existence (like trying to find research paper sources about Facebook), your local or school library will be your best resource.

Go there, and armed with your Wikipedia knowledge, start searching for the best sources. We’re not just after any sources, though. We’re after only the best research paper sources. This will require a little bit of effort, but you can find some success without too much effort if you know what type of research paper sources you need to find.

3. Find the top few secondary resources cited in the article

Depending on the size of your paper, you’ll use a different number of sources. But the goal is to use the most authoritative sources possible.

If you want to know about teeth, for example, who would you consult – a dentist or a hockey player? The dentist, because he has more experience with teeth, has studied teeth, and he probably has all of his.

But if you’re trying to get some information on the best ice skates to buy, who would you consult – the dentist or the hockey player? Again, you consult the one with the most authority on the particular subject – in this case, the hockey player.

So how can you decide which sources are most authoritative? Try to find the sources that have been cited by the most other sources. This takes a bit of research before you’re able to find these, but as you read several sources, you should start to see a pattern of references. Follow that pattern.

Another place to check is Google Scholar. This service will tell you how many times your different research paper sources have been cited. Use those sources with the most citations.

4. Follow the trail of citations to primary sources

After you’ve found a few good resources that help explain your topic, get to the sources behind those research paper sources.

This is an area you have a real opportunity to set your paper apart from your classmates.

Generally speaking, the closer a resource is to the topic you’re studying, the better.

If you are studying Abraham Lincoln, try to find some letters he himself wrote. Maybe you could find an original newspaper clipping of interviews with the people closest to him. Journal entries are great finds, too.

If you are studying something more recent, sometimes you can find video or audio interviews with major players in your topic. If you’re studying someone who is still alive, maybe you could interview him or her yourself.

Can you imagine how unique your research paper sources would look if you had a personal interview with a high-ranking government official, or a family member close to someone you’re writing about? Get creative here. The more unique your sources and the more creative you are in getting them, the more unique your paper will be.

Make some phone calls, dig through some microfilm (ask your librarian if you don’t know what that is), and search out the most interesting and unique sources you can for your paper.

5. Mix up your research paper source type

Don’t just stick to the normal sources – a book and a few journal articles. These are great resources, but finding truly interesting, unique, and noteworthy research paper sources requires you to go beyond those traditional sources.

They are great places to start. But don’t stop there.  Think about some of these other source types for ideas:

  • Newspaper articles
  • Private journal or diary entries
  • Letters
  • Edited collections of essays
  • Scholarly journals
  • Sound recordings
  • Film, TV, or video recordings
  • Google books
  • Magazines
  • Personal interviews

6. Get at least one source per page of your research paper

This sort of a good, general standard that will probably last you through high school and college. Different institutions have different standards, but this is a good starting place. Make sure to check your assignment requirements before you stop researching, though!

I once helped a student gather a number of research paper sources for her final project as a high school student. She got bored, though. So she quit. And she got a terrible grade. That’s what you should expect, too, if you don’t get enough resources.

If you get enough research paper resources while following these tips to make them interesting and unique, and I’m confident your research paper will stand out from your classmates.

Filed Under: blogTagged With: writing

Citing Sources in a Research Paper


| What Is a Citation? | Why do We Cite? | Citation Style | Style Guides |


What Is a Citation?

In research and writing, a citation is a brief reference to a source of published information, providing sufficient bibliographic detail to enable the reader to locate a copy of the source (if copies exist). A citation that does not provide the minimum amount of information is considered incomplete. Citations found in printed and electronic documents are not always correct--they may contain erroneous information, making it impossible for the researcher to locate the original source. The elements included in a citation depend on the format of the material cited (book, article, electronic document, etc.).

Citing Books

A book citation can be distinguished from an article citation by the presence of 1) place of publication and 2) publisher. Also, the publication date for a book is usually given as the year, rather than the month and year, as may be the case for an issue of a periodical.

Example: Klotzko, Arlene J., ed. The Cloning Sourcebook. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.

Citing Articles

A citation for an article published in a periodical (newspaper, magazine, or scholarly journal) can be distinguished from a book citation by the presence of 1) the article title, 2) the journal title, 3) the volume number, and 4) inclusive page numbers.

Example: Wara, Michael W. "Permanent El Niño-Like Conditions during the Pliocene Warm Period." Science 309 (2005): 758-762.

A citation for a work (essay, article, story, poem, etc.) published in a collected work or anthology can be distinguished from a book citation by the presence of 1) the article title in addition to the title of the book and 2) inclusive page numbers; and from a citation for a periodical article by the presence of 1) place of publication and 2) publisher.

Example: Loughran, James N. "Reasons for Being Just." The Value of Justice: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Social Virtue. Ed. Charles A. Kelbley. New York: Fordham UP, 1979. 39-57.

Citing Electronic Sources

A citation for a document retrieved from an electronic database or online publication differs from a citation for an article published in print by the presence of an Internet address, usually the URL of the document at the time it was retrieved.

Example: VandenBos, G., Knapp, S., & Doe, J. (2001). Role of reference elements in the selection of resources by psychology undergraduates. Journal of Bibliographic Research, 5, 117-123. Retrieved October 13, 2001, from http://jbr.org/articles.html

Why Do We Cite?

Scholars and students cite to inform their readers of the sources used in their research and to credit individuals whose previous efforts have facilitated their work. Plagiarism is the presentation of a little-known fact or an idea found in another source as if it were one's own, a serious breach of academic integrity. Promising careers in academia have foundered on a scholar's failure to give credit where credit was due, and many colleges and universities in the United States, including WCSU, consider plagiarism grounds for disciplinary action.

Citations are also used in indexes and abstracting services, bibliographies, and electronic databases that specialize in compiling lists of sources to facilitate research (often in a specific discipline or field of study). Because these tools are published by different publishing companies and citation style is not standardized, the same work may be cited slightly differently in one index or bibliography than in another, as these two examples illustrate:

A foster care research agenda for the '90s. R. Goerge and others. bibl Child Welf v73 p525-49 S/O '94
(from Social Sciences Index)

Goerge, Robert; Wulczyn, Fred; & Fanshel, David. (1994). A foster care research agenda for the '90s. Child Welfare, 73, 525-549.
(from Child Development Abstracts and Bibliography)

PLEASE NOTE that in the citation from Social Sciences Index, the journal title Child Welf is an abbreviation of the full title Child Welfare, and the month of issue is abbreviated S/O for September/October. The publisher's conventions of abbreviation are usually stated at the beginning of each index volume, often in a list of "Abbreviations of Periodicals Indexed." Abbreviated titles are rarely used in electronic journal databases.


Citation Style

Unfortunately for the student, there is no single standardized format for citations. Different forms have evolved through usage in specific disciplines. The three most commonly used citation styles have been developed by the Modern Language Association (MLA) for use in the humanities, the American Psychological Association (APA) for use in the social sciences, and in The Chicago Manual of Style, preferred by many writers. The following citations, representing the same book, illustrate differences between the three styles:

MLA Style:
Leakey, Richard, and Roger Lewin. Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
APA Style:
Leakey, R., & Lewin, R. (1992). Origins reconsidered: In search of what makes us human. New York: Doubleday.
The Chicago Manual of Style:
Leakey, Richard, and Roger Lewin. Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human. New York, Doubleday, 1992.

This lack of uniformity can make life difficult for the student. If you are writing a research paper for a particular course, the professor may require that a specific citation style be used for the assignment. Read the course syllabus carefully--if citation style is not specified in the syllabus, ask your instructor before investing time and effort in the formatting of your notes and bibliography. If you are allowed to choose a citation style, then once you have made your decision, be sure to maintain the same style throughout the paper. Your instructor will expect consistency and may count any inconsistencies against you.


Style Guides

Here is a list of published guides to citation style, available in print from the WCSU libraries, for use in citing sources published in print and online. Please note that items on RESERVE have a shorter borrowing period than normal. To check out a guide at the Circulation Desk, you must present your barcoded student ID card. Copies in reference may not be checked out, but you may use them on the premises and make photocopies of the pages you need. Copy machines are available on the first floor of the Haas Library (near the CyberCafe) and on the third floor.

The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors. 2nd edition.Haas Ref QD 8.5.A25 1997
American Medical Association Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 9th edition.Haas Ref R 119.A533 1998
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. Revised edition.Young Ref PN 4783.A83 2002
The Bedford Handbook. Hacker. 6th edition.Haas Ref PE 1408.H277 2002
The Chicago Manual of Style. 15th edition.ON RESERVE - Haas Circ Desk
A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Turabian. 6th edition.ON RESERVE - Haas Circ;
Young Ref LB 2369.T8 1996
MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th edition.ON RESERVE - Haas Circ Desk
MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. 2nd edition.ON RESERVE - Haas Circ Desk
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. 4th edition.ON RESERVE - Haas Circ;
Haas Ref BF 76.7.P83

Information on citation style is also available online. Here is a selected list of Web sites for your assistance:


Please send your comments to Joan Reitz, Haas Instruction Librarian, Western Connecticut State University. reitzj@wcsu.eduLast updated on August 29, 2005

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