Text: Reading and Using Your Sources

Multiple Readings

Finding information is just the beginning of research. The next step is determining if the information you find adds to your argument and is credible, reliable, and useful. Some sources can be outdated, biased, or just plain wrong, and using that information makes it a lot more difficult for you to present a convincing argument.

In order to ensure the appropriateness of a source for your research, you should expect to read through each source at least twice.

The First Reading

During the first reading you should analyze the rhetorical context of the source. This includes examining the reasons the author wrote the work and his or her intended audience. Start by looking for the topic and the thesis. What is the author’s stated purpose? What kind of evidence does he or she use to support the argument? What is the author saying? What is her purpose? The author could be trying to explain, inform, anger, persuade, amuse, motivate, sadden, ridicule, attack, or defend. Once you understand the argument and purpose, you can begin to evaluate the argument.

The Second Reading

During the second reading, you want to take notes and determine how to utilize the source in your own research. This is the time to think about whether you agree or disagree with the source, and whether you have any commentary that you would like to make about the author’s argument. Determine whether you find the author credible or not. If you do, and if the author’s purpose and argument support your own, you can begin incorporating the source into your own writing. If you find the author credible but disagree with his purpose, it can still be valuable to consider the source in your own writing so that you can anticipate and acknowledge counterarguments later in your essay.

Finally, remember to pay attention to quotation marks as you read. It’s important to note whether the author of a text is writing, or if she is quoting someone else. Quotation marks are a helpful tool that authors use to help readers in distinguishing their voice from those of others. By paying attention to quotations and other cited material, you may also gain leads on other sources and authors you can incorporate in your paper.

Determining Usefulness

Swiss Army knife with all of the pieces open.

While reading through your sources, you should determine if and how they will be useful for your research. Below are lists of reasons to decide that a piece of information is or is not useful for your project.

Potentially include information if it:

  • contains facts/opinions that you need
  • contains illustrations or data you need
  • contains an overview to establish the context of your paper
  • was written by a well-known authority or expert
  • contains a point of view that illustrates something you are trying to establish
  • exemplifies something or shows an example of something to support your argument
  • may have a clear explanation of something

Potentially exclude information if it:

  • is not from a scholarly journal
  • is from a scholarly journal but is too difficult for you to understand
  • is out of date
  • doesn’t have the point of view you are researching
  • doesn’t contain any new information.
  • is too narrow (or too broad) in coverage