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Researching a College Essay

While there are essay assignments that do not require citation, most will ask for research and support. A paper that relies on a questionable or illegitimate source will not earn you an honorable grade. Once you know have chosen your topic, the next logical step is researching credible academic sources.


Sources for Sources

Many college students do not enjoy research. Perhaps because there are simply too many or insufficient information; the beginning steps can be the most tedious. Professors may have different requirements for sources but regardless, your college library will certainly have ample scholarly and credible sources. Such sources can be found through the college library, online catalogs, or academic searches such as Google scholar.

Professors typically condemn Wikipedia and other open-source websites that are not reliable. Encyclopedia entries and similar, basic, introductory sources will provide a rough overview of your topic, while listing other sources used in the article. Those are generally reliable, often academic, and strong for research papers. Depending on the required citation style for your essay, Wikipedia could have even written part of your works cited page for you.

If you plan to do original research, be aware that your university may have strict requirements for that. If you are intermixing various subjects or authors, you may need to go through the college’s Institutional Review Board for permission to continue. Set aside time for this and ask your instructor what is required. Some schools grant waivers or have special, expedited application processes for some undergraduate research and interviews.

Getting Help

If both the library catalog and Internet are coming up short, or if you want assistance in narrowing search through better terms, you may want to visit with a reference librarian. Campus research librarians are specialized and highly knowledgeable in the expectations of your college and possibly even your course and professor. Ideally, your professor is the key person to contact when it comes to discussing problems. Instructors will know the content and material well and may be able to recommend books, articles, or more places for optimal search results. College professors are busy much of the time, so take advantage by setting up an appointment to discuss your topic and trouble in finding sources.


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Last Reviewed: October 2022