How to Find Good Resources for Writing an Essay

Tackle research one step at a time.
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Navigating through the plethora of online and print resources available can be overwhelming, especially for students who are trying to find credible sources for an essay. In order to save time and frustration, there are several key steps students can take when searching for useful essay resources: look in your home and library, start with Google and Wikipedia, begin an advanced database search, read critically and check article references.

1 Print Sources

Before you start searching the Web, search your home. Chances are that you have already collected books, magazines or news clippings that relate to your topic. Just as your home might contain a hidden treasure trove of sources, so do most libraries and schools, which have many books, periodicals and databases at your disposal. You can also access most libraries online if you have a library membership card or school identification number.

2 Google and Wikipedia

Start your online search with Google and Wikipedia. As a rule, these sites rarely provide credible scholarly sources, but they are a good place to begin. Google contains a myriad of articles, essays, legal records and texts. Likewise, the articles on Wikipedia often include useful reference sections, but be very wary of quoting Wikipedia articles.

3 Advanced Database Research

Most high school and college libraries offer free access to vast databases filled with scholarly journal articles. Galileo, ProQuest, JSTOR and EBSCOhost are some of the most common and powerful archives available. Choose one or two databases, conduct a keyword search for your specific topic and select at least ten articles that link to your topic. Be sure to record source information so that you can easily retrieve articles for future reference.

4 Critical Reading

Read the abstracts of sources that appear relevant to your topic and determine which articles you want to read and annotate. An abstract is a summary of an article usually written by the author. Choose a few articles, read them in full, and annotate sections that support your research focus.

5 Reference Review

By this point, you have probably found several useful sources. Before conducting another Internet search, peruse the references listed in each journal for titles that match your topic. Just like abstracts, reference pages save writers hours of research time. Depending on the scope of your essay, you might be able to stop here, or you may have to repeat the process. Before you do, briefly summarize the main ideas of your current sources. This way, you do not have to read them again later.

Elizabeth Jamison is a published writer, composition teacher and PhD candidate specializing in rhetoric/composition. She holds a master's degree in English education from Georgia State University. With more than 15 years experience, she has been published in magazines and journals.