Why It Matters: Finding and Evaluating Sources Workshop

Why learn to find and evaluate sources?

Academic writing doesn’t take place in a vacuum. In other words, academic writing happens in response to some kind of question or problem, and incorporates information from other sources as it seeks to answer this question or problem. Kenneth Burke used the metaphor of a conversation to describe academic writing. There has been a “conversation” happening about your research topic long before you arrived on the scene. To contribute to that conversation well, you need to learn about what’s been discussed before you arrived, and interact with those who are currently talking.

Fruits and vegetables on white background.

Figure 1. Talking to your vegan friend about diets can give you a lot of great information, but you can expect some of it will be biased. You should approach all sources in a similar way—look for the information you need, but cautiously.

This process can be difficult and intimidating for two reasons. First, you have no idea how to begin! How do you find a quality source on feminism in Jane Eyre or the effects of climate change on tropical fruit trees? Simply typing those terms into Google will pull up millions and millions of results. Second, how do you know if what you find is credible, accurate, and relevant?

Whether you realize it or not, you already know how to find and evaluate sources in an informal way. For example, imagine that you wanted to learn about different diets to improve your health. You decide to talk to your friend Marnie, because she has been vegan for five years. This means that she has the knowledge and experience necessary to give you accurate information. You also know that she became vegan because she is an animal rights activist. Your desire to investigate veganism is for individual health purposes, not activism. You instinctively know that Marnie will have certain biases and that she will emphasize some aspects of veganism that are irrelevant to your inquiry. You realize that Marnie can credibly provide some of the information you need, but you will need to critically evaluate her statements and probably seek out more sources of information before making any decisions.

This is essentially the same way you will seek and evaluate sources in academic writing. Since the academic research process is a bit more involved than talking to a friend, this writing workshop will help break down the process of finding sources and evaluating sources.

Writing Workshop: Your Working Document

Every component of the working document will be introduced throughout this module in a blue box such as this one. Open your working document now and keep it open as you progress through the module.

  1. Go to the assignment for this module in your LMS. Click on the link to open the Working Document for this module as a Google Document.
  2. Choose “file” then “make a copy” to make your own version of the document. If you prefer to download it as a word or other file, you may.Screenshot of the file, make a copy, button inside of google docs
  3. Rename it as “YOUR NAME: Working Doc – Writing Essentials” and move it to a folder where you can easily find it.screenshot of copy document and renaming settings inside of google docs
  4. Next, go to the sharing settings and change it so that “Anyone with the link can comment.” This will enable your instructor to make comments on the document.Screenshot of GoogleDocs sharing settings set to "Anyone with the link can comment"
  5. Now hold onto this document—we’ll need it soon! (You’ll submit the link to your instructor once you’ve completed the Writing Workshop activities).


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