Nerdify Reviews 7 Tips for Finding the Best Academic Sources for Your Essays
Determining the most effective thesis statement for your upcoming essay is difficult enough, but finding primary and secondary sources to back up your claim can be nearly impossible if you don’t know the best places to look. There is a plethora of information on the web, and as such, what might seem like a reputable source at first glance might not actually be reliable — take, for example, the fact that anyone can publish a book on Amazon claiming to be knowledgeable on a topic. Read tips from our Nerdify review experts below on how to cut through the noise to find the best supporting evidence for your essay.
1. Firstly, You’ll Need to Know the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources
When searching for articles that support your essay’s thesis statement, you will come across either primary or secondary works. A primary source is an original piece that comes directly from the origin of its information — think a novel, poem, autobiography, research study, and more. However, the writer of a secondary source uses one or more primary sources for their analysis of the work or a broader topic — think a piece of literary criticism, encyclopedias, opinionated editorial articles in newspapers, and more.
For example, if your essay will cover a book you’ve discussed in class, that is the primary source of your writing. You will then be pulling quotes directly from your primary source to use as evidence of your thesis statement. Using excerpts from secondary sources analyzing your primary book — or the broader theme of your thesis — will further boost the credibility of your claims. If your essay isn’t focused on one of your class’ primary works but rather a literary theme, then you will be finding your own primary sources in addition to secondary ones. Now, let’s discuss how to actually find those oft-elusive sources.
2. Wikipedia is a Fine Reference…to Begin your Research
If you are just scratching the surface on a topic, Wikipedia is a fantastic site that boils down concepts without getting lost in the nuance of academic papers. A word of caution — since Wikipedia is written and edited by random people on the internet, don’t take the information posted at face value, the same goes with information posted on other online forums like Reddit review subreddits. Wikipedia should solely be treated as a jumping-off point for further research into the topics it discusses. To find relevant sources for your thesis, check the article links in the footnotes at the bottom of the page — those are likely worth investigating. However, our Nerdify review experts want you to know that Wikipedia does not always reference the most credible sources, and a tool to help determine its viability is looking at the domain name.
3. Be Wary of Websites Ending in “.com,” and Instead Go for Those Ending in “.edu” or “.gov”
While most websites end in “.com,” many don’t realize that it represents “commercial,” meaning it is often used by companies or the general public. Due to this, websites ending in “.com” don’t necessarily have any duty to be factually accurate, like aforementioned forums such as Reddit reviews, whose sites end in “.com.” That’s not to say that all information posted to “.com” websites is incorrect, but you should verify facts that influence your essays by more credible sources. On the other hand, sites ending in “.edu” and “.gov” are much more reliable, with “.edu” representing educational institutions and “.gov” representing solely government institutions. Sites ending in “.org” are a bit of a mixed bag. Often, the domain refers to non-profit organizations or open-source designs, but anyone can also purchase the domain name. To find references that are much more reliable, our Nerdify review experts recommend looking through the hub of information you have access to as a college student.
4. You’re already paying for access to your school’s databases — use them!
While most students start with a Google search to find references to strengthen their essays, your library’s database is a fantastic place to hunt. In the case that your library doesn’t have a particular book you were hoping to use, your school should have access to an external, digital library that hosts an online version of the book, and you can often even request a library to mail you their book. Two fantastic digital library databases include JSTOR (short for “Journal Storage”) and EBSCO (short for Elton B. Stephens Company). If, however, you would still like to consult Google for possible sources, there’s a better way to do so that you might not be aware of.
5. Improve your Google searches with Google Scholar
Everybody knows that you can find academic sources from Google, but it usually requires you to dig through pages worth of irrelevant links before coming across sources you can use. However, if you go to Google Scholar instead of the standard Google homepage, it gives you full-text links and .pdfs of scholarly articles across all disciplines. Though it can find academic articles for you, you’ll still likely need to log in to your institution for access to published works on some databases. Once you find even one literary essay relevant to your report, most people don’t realize that a single piece alone unlocks many other sources at your disposal.
6. Borrow From Other Literary Critics’ Sources
No, this is not advocating for plagiarism, but rather referring to pulling from the bibliography of already-published articles. If you are reading an essay relevant to your thesis statement, the sources they used to create their argument will likely be related to your project. For those that struggle to properly cite works in their bibliography, those of published authors are a great reference tool. Other types of references you might not think of searching through are those published in the journalism field.
7. Pick Up a Magazine or Newspaper for Primary Sources on Historical Events
Journalistic articles are a snapshot of the time they were published in, which means they could come in handy if you would like to give context to a specific period of history you are discussing. Any publication worth its salt should have a team of fact-checkers behind them that ensure everything going to print is accurate. However, Nerdify review experts would like to caution you that many news sites and magazines can have their own bias, so they may skew information to further their own agendas. If you find a media source, it is wise to check AllSides — a database that reports on the biases of news sites — and pick publications that are as objective and middle-of-the-road as possible.