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Waidner-Spahr Library

Research Process: What is a Good Source?

Use this guide to as a basic guide to research. Information is included on how to use keywords and phrases, evaluate a source. This guide can also help you identify primary and secondary sources and expand or narrow your searches.

Habits of a Good Researcher

It is important to consult a variety of sources, including print and digital when engaging in the research process. On-line resources are quick and convenient in that they can be accessed outside the library, but they do not represent the complete range of information available in any discipline. Many of the rich resources owned by the library, both primary and secondary, are available in print. A librarian can help you locate appropriate resources for your topic.

Good researchers don't ignore a possible source of information just because it is harder to access. Some sources you discover may not be available in Dickinson's collection. When beginning the research process, be sure to build in enough time to order materials through Interlibrary Loan/Illiad.

A good researcher is defined by the willingness and ability to follow leads and being able to quickly evaluate a source for its reliability and usefulness. Clues to important and reliable information come from many places. Secondary sources are often good places to start the research project, as their footnotes and bibliographies can provide you with leads to primary sources and other important secondary works.

Distinguishing Among Source Types

Evaluating Sources

How do you evaulate a possible source of information?

There are many factors to consider when evaluating sources as you research.  Most importantly, you should consider what the information can add to your research and pool of knowledge, is the information too specific or too general for your purpose?  Then you should think about if you can trust the information, for example:

  • Who is the author?
  • Is the source biased?  Is it published or written by an individual, group, or organization with bias?
  • What is the author's purpose - to inform, entertain, or persuade?
  • How current is the information?  Is currency important to you?
  • If facts or assumptions are made, how can you trust these to be true?  Is the author citing sources?  Was the information evaluated by someone else before being published? 
  • Is the organization that is publishing the information trustworthy?  For example the New York Times is more trustworthy than news appearing on an unknown person's blog or twitter feed.

If you are unsure, consult with a librarian or meet with your professor.