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What to look for: All Resources

How to identify appropriate sources for your paper

What to Look For in Any Resource

You will need to find credible sources to support your argument or point of view, or to gather background information, for virtually every paper you write as a college student. Remember, your paper is only as credible as your sources!

Doing thorough research and using credible sources will:

  • Provide/discern facts, truth, and an understanding of a topic. 
  • Provide a factual basis for what you are arguing in your paper. 
  • Verify or revise existing facts, theories, beliefs, or applications, or discover something new. 
  • Add validity to your argument.
  • Assure your reader that your research can be taken seriously.

Typically, a goal in academic writing is that you learn something new or look at things in a new way. Writing about your opinion, your beliefs, or about something you “just know” without providing sources to back up your stance is not usually sufficient in academic writing. Demonstrating that you are able to identify credible resources and incorporate the ideas you learn from them will help you earn better grades!

Non-fiction material is based in fact (usually supported with research, evidence, and/or observation), rather than creative. Generally speaking, a non-fiction source is preferred in a research paper. Examples of non-fiction types of literature/media would be news, biography, history, art, religion, cooking, and more.

Fiction material is created from imagination, and will usually consist of characters that aren't real people, character development, a plot/story, conflict, and resolution. Typically, it is not advisable to use a fictional source in a research paper, unless it is used to illustrate a point, to explain a source of inspiration, or your paper is in some way about a particular fictional source(s). Examples of fictional literature/media would be mysteries, romances, fantasy, scifi, most graphic novels, plays, and more.

It is possible, especially in literature or humanities-type studies, that the examination of one or more fictional resources (or aspects/elements within them) is the topic of a paper. In these situations, it is acceptable to use appropriate and relevant fiction as sources with proper citation. Ideally, your conclusions or arguments would be supported with non-fictional sources as well.

In the Nicolet College Library, call numbers beginning with P are fiction, except for language studies, literary criticism and author biographies. A call number beginning with anything other than P is non-fiction.

Some non-fiction topics are not generally considered valid by the scientific community at this point in time. These topics may be interesting for personal study, but are likely not appropriate for your research project. Examples include:

  • Paranormal topics such as ghosts, aliens, cryptozoology, reincarnation, past lives, magic, etc.
  • "Alternate reality" subjects like the Mandela effect, we're living in a simulation, travel to/from/between parallel universes, time travel, etc.  
  • "Alternative science" subjects such as anti-vaxxing, homeopathic medicine, climate change denial, flat earth, dinosaurs didn’t really exist, etc.
  • Extra-human powers such as psychic abilities, telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, remote viewing, etc. 
  • Conspiracy theories 
  • Religion, spirituality, or demonology

If you were considering an above topic or something similar, talk to your instructor first before going any further in the research process.

Consider all of the following criteria (CRAP):

  • Currency: Newer sources are generally preferable, unless you are looking for historical information or perspectives: Within 3-5 years for scientific/technical areas; last 10 years for literature/humanities type areas. Determine if there have been recent developments since its publication. See “websites” tab for website specific indicators. Be very skeptical of a source with no publication date.
  • Reliability: Examine resources for evidence of thorough research and/or demonstrated expertise. Do a surface evaluation of cited sources for apparent credibility. Be extremely skeptical of any source with no cited sources.

Determine the publisher and its reputation in academics. Corporate publishers will have a vetting process prior to publication that gives some assurance of scholarly credibility, but self-published sources typically lack that process. For websites, see the “websites” tab for a table of extensions and the associated level of reliability.

  • Authorship: Author/authorship refers to the creator of written or media sources. Authors can be individuals or organizations.

Determine the author’s credentials, if they have demonstrated expertise, their reputation in the field, and/or their affiliation with a reputable research institution such as a university or hospital, or government agency. For websites, look for an "about us" page, contact information, and an indication of the mission of the organization. Be extremely skeptical of any source if you can’t determine the author.

  • Purpose: Determine if the resource was created to provide impartial information, or if was it created to inflame emotions or sell a product. Be extremely skeptical of any resource created for any purpose other than to inform.

Examine the word choices and imagery used in the source. Indicators of informational sources include:

  • Appeals to logic and reason with more objective and neutral word choices and imagery. 
  • Highlights facts over discussions of opinions or beliefs. 
  • Captions tend to objectively describe the circumstances in the image. 
  • Discusses even upsetting subjects (such as animal cruelty) matter-of-factly and objectively.

Social Media

Often stories and images with words circulated on social media are outdated, very heavily biased, blatantly false, or refer to an issue, problem, or situation that has been resolved or no longer exists. It is very important to fact check any story or image before accepting it as current or true. See the social media tab for more information.

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Main Phone #: 715.365.4479

Location: 3rd floor of the Lakeside Center

Library Hours (Fall 2021)

Library Hours  

Monday - Friday 8:30 AM 4:00 PM
Monday - Friday 8:30 AM 4:00 PM
Upcoming Library Closings/Reduced Services
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Monday, July 4 CLOSED
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