All about resources for your paper (Part 1 – Essays and Reports)

November 14th, 2007
By Jon H
All about resources for your paper (Part 1 – Essays and Reports)

Every time I received a paper, research question or conducting a group project I always wondered how many sources I should read, and how many I ‘needed’ to include in my paper, the references section and how many sources to actually quote from. Looking at this from a later point of view I wonder how and why I read so many resources and how I evaluated what would go into my reference list and why.

How many sources?

When talking about resources, we need to be careful about what we’re including and for what purpose. In this post I’ll be taking an essay as an example – it will need to be 3,000 words and is written for a UK university. I’ll also be covering reports and group work of a similar size, and commenting on whether you need to change the amount of sources you use. Tomorrow (in part 2) I’ll be looking at sources towards people writing dissertations and theses.

Types of sources

There are many different resources available in your college/university library – books, journals, magazines, trade journals/magazines, legal papers, maps, past papers, exam papers, newspapers – there are also many more sources to choose from on the Internet – company websites, e-books, ezines online, online journals, financial reports, news websites, blogs and many more.

Reliability of sources

Many academics consider resources found on the Internet to be unreliable and un-trustworthy, unless they are a .edu or website, a trusted newspaper that prints daily, or a journal/e-book which has been published in print. Why is this? So many people can start a website or online resource similar to this blog R2G – getting people to trust an online site and a writer’s opinions (in the eyes of academics) is very difficult indeed. I agree that a lot of resources online (mainly towards research figures and conclusions) are unreliable and un-trustworthy; however, I have my own opinions on other more ‘trusted’ sources and their reliability and relevance to what students actually write about.

Having reliable sources that you refer to will also build your credibility as people read your work – including your professors/lecturers of course.

Style of sources

Including both ‘reliable’ and ‘unreliable’ resources is a good way forward and one that I have taken many times. A ‘reliable’ source generally has good standing in the eyes of your readers and when combined with one from the Internet termed ‘unreliable’ it can be great for development for your paper. The first resource may create the grounding for your opinion/argument and the second so called ‘unreliable’ source may develop your thinking, knowledge and understanding of the subject at hand. Therefore, it is great to add this to your sources and opinions in your paper.

All resources have different styles and approaches to the question/area they are trying to answer, or are researching, and different writers will undoubtedly have different responses and views towards a particular theory or practice. Choosing both sources that compliment your writing style, opinion and thoughts on a particular subject, as well as having ones that you wouldn’t really choose to include or annoy you, are also great to include – they show that you have understood a topic.

Pain and simple a book is just not the same as a newspaper article, even though they may both cover the exact same story or opinion. Generally, using both types of resources will be good for your paper, as it shows to your readers that you have thought about the sources you need and what approach you are taking.

General figures

Not just talking about the collection of sources and types of resources to use, you will also need to understand how many resources/sources to search for and use. When writing an essay I would search for numerous sources on and surrounding the subject/area. As soon as I found a theory and a named author who explained the subject well I would count this as a valuable resource and one to include in my work. I love research and planning and believe this is the key to establishing a great essay answer, or report summary. Looking towards a 3,000 word essay I would research different avenues and areas from the above types of sources – trying to acquire as many different ones as possible and sometimes create information overload! This would result in having over 60 sources to relate to, and then have near to 30 sources in my bibliography at the end of my paper. Why 30? This is a good amount of sources to have and I would generally look to have 10 sources per 1,000 words – sometimes I would go over, but that didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t too much – if the source needed to be included then it would. If I read over the book and it didn’t give me any opinion or ‘ta da!’ moment I’d move on.

If I was looking towards a report I would have a smaller number of resources, having more factual and informative sources – rather than opinionated ones for essays.

Wondering about resources for your dissertation or thesis? This will be available in tomorrow’s post on R2G.

Further Resources

Guide to writing a Basic Essay

The Discussion

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