The sources you choose and use when writing an essay or a research paper is a key factor contributing to its quality and depth. If you use unreliable or irrelevant sources, you cannot substantiate your arguments or produce a quality essay. Strong, reliable and relevant primary and secondary sources breathe life into your arguments and hold your essay together as a whole.
Sources often become a stumbling block for even the most seasoned writers and scholars, primarily because there are many things that could go wrong in the process of using primary and secondary materials. Needless to say, the process of choosing, evaluating, integrating and acknowledging your sources is long and time-consuming. Here are a few points to remember when using sources in academic writing:
No source, be it primary or secondary, should be chosen or used randomly or aimlessly. Every material in your essay should be there for a reason. It goes without saying that you should choose sources that are relevant to your research question and help you flesh out your arguments. Likewise, the materials you use should be highly reliable; randomand unreliable materials floating on the internet should be avoided as primary or secondary sources. Your discipline is another important factor you should keep in mind when locating and selecting materials. Disciplines vary widely in their expectations and conventions regarding acceptable primary and secondary sources. For instance, social sciences make room for using materials and evidence from popular culture, while such sources are a strict no-no in natural sciences. Even different disciplines in social sciences have different conventions and norms for sources.
The next step in the process is the evaluation of sources. This should be done in the light of your thesis statement, research questions, and overall research design. The process of evaluating also involves sifting through a vast number of sources and figuring out what each will do in your paper.Once you finalize your sources, considerable time should be devoted to double-check their validity and reliability. A point that deserves special mention here is how to deal with counterarguments. Often students make the mistake of hiding sources containing counterarguments. However, such sources should also be evaluated so that you can expand your theoretical framework and account for the differences.
The third step in the process is the integration of a careful selection of primary and secondary sources into the essay. This process becomes easier if you have the structure of your essay in place so that you know where each source should be integrated. It is in your best interests to note down which parts of the source you are going to use in your paper. You should also choose the mode of integration - quote, paraphrase or summary based on the length of the information you are trying to incorporate. Primary and secondary sources have got different roles to play in an essay while the former help you gather data to build your argument, a systematic analysis of the latter helps you back your claims. Every source you use in the paper should contribute to the overall picture and help you advance your arguments.
Finally, acknowledge your sources fittingly because the failure to do so may be considered as plagiarism. Whether you are quoting, summarizing or paraphrasing,any informationor ideas you borrowed from an external source should be cited using a standard citation style. All external data you use to prepare charts, tables, or graphs should be attributed to respective sources. Similarly, non-textual sources such as movies, videos, audio clips, photographs, interviews, etc. should be given due credit .Make sure that you include a bibliography at the end of the paper containing a list of all sources cited in the paper.
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