Having written hundreds of essays, I can’t tell you how important referring to reliable sources is. To tell you more, sometimes writing the paper is super easy while looking for relevant sources turns out to be a heck of a challenge.
It doesn’t take much time to figure out that sources are integral in academic essay writing. They help the writer take a stance and back it up by providing relevant and authoritative thoughts.
“So if this is obvious, why touch upon this topic?” you might ask. See, many students underestimate the importance of sources. They think that locating trustworthy sources is a walk in the park.
Truth be told, I used to be that person. There was a time when I wouldn’t pay enough attention to gathering information; spending five minutes finding sources was okay for me then. And although I realized that it wasn’t right, I kept falling into that rabbit hole until I started prioritizing quality over quantity.
I wanted to write my essays and make them good. I mean, really good. And my resolution began with changing my approach toward sources. Below, I am sharing what helped me tremendously. Hopefully, you will find it helpful, too.
Begin with understanding the topic
I used to skim assignments from teachers, as my study schedule often collided with extracurricular activities. So, there was no time for breaks between classes and activities, let alone home tasks. Somehow, I managed to finish them off, but I didn’t score high marks, as you may guess. My essays were usually mediocre, mainly because I misunderstood topics. You know, I was indifferent about educators’ comments. They had their truths; I, in turn, had justifications.
But once I decided to give a closer look at the remarks. And I started getting why I kept failing. That’s why I wanted to delve as deep as I could into writing. And bingo! I began with reading the subject along with the central question and keywords. When I understood what the instructor expected of me, I started digging.
Now, I won’t tell you it helped me get an A+. I got a B-, on average. Still, it was higher than I used to receive when ignoring tasks. So before you dive into writing, get familiar with your job. Specifically, try to understand the branch of science your topic falls into. It will narrow down your searches substantially.
Turn to your notes and curriculum material
Students are often told to think outside the box because this can help them make their writing unique and ultimately receive the highest grade. While creative thinking is necessary indeed, many learners misinterpret that and avoid commonality in cited works. They try to find exclusive articles and books they are sure no one will rely on. I once did that, and boy was I wrong. Not only did I write an awful paper, but I also spent too much time looking for scholarly sources.
Thankfully, I learned that looking for sources is demanding, but using them correctly is what matters the most. I could spend hours browsing the web and finding the right article when everything I needed was in my notebook and class curriculum.
Every subject provides a detailed syllabus with the program’s aim and objective. And it has a list of primary and secondary literature, which pertains just right to the course. In other words, sources are given to you on a silver platter. Just make sure to find the appropriate one.
Pay a visit to Wikipedia
Yes, I also stay away from Wiki but hear me out. Wikipedia is an unreliable page, and in no way should you refer to it in your paper. However, the great thing about Wiki is that whatever article you find will contain a bibliography. You don’t even need to read the article; jump to the last section and look at the works cited. If something draws your interest, open the source in a new tab and get familiar with it.
Befriend Google Scholar
Of all the pieces of advice my supervisor gave to me, this one has been stamped in my memory ever since, “Whenever you run the browser intending to find a source, the first page you should visit is Google Scholar.”
There is absolutely no second thought about the credibility of Google Scholar. The website encompasses academic works that are not only written by scholars and researchers. Such papers are also peer-reviewed. More importantly, others cite them. I owe a huge thank you to Google Scholar, as it helped me with my M.A. thesis writing.
Make use of handy websites
However valuable Google Scholar is, it would be reasonable to tell you that it may not have what you need. The thing is, Google Scholar is a web engine that indexes academic literature. If the piece is freely accessible, Google Scholar will provide you with either a text or a link to a repository. But if an article isn’t free of charge, or the web page requires you to log in, Google Scholar might not provide the link to such a page.
In such a case, websites like Sci-Hub or Z-Library will come in handy. Many consider such pages as illegal and those that break academic integrity. I see such websites differently.
Everyone has the right to access information. With the emergence of the Internet, many academicians have become money-driven. They spawn papers that usually cost ridiculous money. Besides, I don’t use the mentioned sites for commercial purposes. I want to educate myself, so I will keep using them.
Remain critical: academic doesn’t instantly mean reliable
The phrase ‘academic source’ is often tantamount to adjectives like credible and reliable, isn’t it? And while I also partially agree with it, scholarly articles don’t mean you can trust them blindly.
As said previously, many ‘researchers’ are money-oriented, and they would write nearly anything to fill up their bank account. Frequently, such people are published in prestigious journals, which means their bias and prejudice spread dramatically fast.
The best way to identify pseudo academicians is to check their previous works. Look over where such ‘intellectuals’ were published and what their expertise is. Check if new papers correspond with older articles.
If something doesn’t look right, e.g., the paper is older than five years, and there are no updated works on the subject, the chances are it was refuted by other scholars or didn’t stand during peer-review. In this case, don’t include it in your essay.
The ability to find credible sources and use them correctly when writing an essay is essential. But on no account is picking this skill up elementary. The most critical thing is to remember to keep practicing. By regular drills, you will learn how to locate the necessary sources eventually.