Academic Sources

Working with sources is an essential part of academic writing, as it allows writers to support their arguments and ideas with evidence from credible sources. However, it can also be a challenging process, as writers must navigate the complex rules and conventions surrounding citation, plagiarism, and source evaluation.

To effectively work with sources, writers should first conduct thorough research to identify relevant sources and gather the necessary information. This might involve consulting academic databases, conducting interviews or surveys, or reviewing primary source materials.

Once the sources have been identified, writers must carefully evaluate them to determine their credibility and relevance to the topic at hand. This might involve considering the author’s credentials, the source’s publication date and context, and the accuracy and objectivity of the information presented.

Once the sources have been evaluated, writers must then incorporate them into their writing using proper citation and referencing techniques. This might involve using in-text citations, footnotes or endnotes, and creating a bibliography or reference list at the end of the paper.

Throughout the process of working with sources, writers must also be vigilant about avoiding plagiarism, which is the unauthorized use of another person’s work or ideas. This might involve using quotation marks, paraphrasing, or summarizing information in order to clearly indicate the sources of the information being used.

By following these guidelines and best practices, writers can effectively work with sources to support their arguments and ideas, while also maintaining academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism.

What is a source?

Scholarly sources refer to expert-written materials that aim to advance knowledge in a particular field.

  • They have several functions, such as communicating original research, summarizing current research trends, and contributing to the theoretical foundations of a discipline.
  • These sources use formal and technical language and are meant for readers with knowledge of the discipline.
  • Their goal is to educate and inform, support their arguments with evidence, and attribute the authorship to specific academic qualifications.
  • Scholarly sources should avoid presenting a biased perspective, having spelling or grammatical errors, and relying on appeals to emotion.
  • Additionally, they should be well-structured and provide information on the research methodology used, and formal citations should be used whenever referencing information from other sources.
  • Scholarly books are usually published by academic publishers or university presses, while scholarly articles are typically longer than popular articles and are published in discipline-specific journals. Moreover, they are subject to peer review.

What types of sources exist?

Academic writing relies on various types of sources, and their relevance depends on the stage of the research process. The common types of sources used in academic writing are:

  • Academic journals
  • Scholarly books
  • Websites
  • Newspapers
  • Encyclopedias

Depending on the research topic and approach, these sources can be categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary.

  • Primary sources provide direct evidence about the research topic,
  • while secondary sources offer commentary or interpretation on primary sources.
  • Tertiary sources summarize or consolidate primary and secondary sources but do not provide original insights. Although tertiary sources are not commonly cited in academic writing, they can be useful in gaining additional knowledge about the topic.

If uncertain about the relevant sources for a research topic, one can consult with the instructor.

How to conduct research?

It is imperative to thoroughly assess each source that you want to use because credibility is key. Incorporating unreliable sources will make your academic work questionable.

The initial phase for any research work for many students is the Google search engine – the starting point of all academic inquiries that contains zillions of sources and databases with relevant information. Popular databases containing only scholarly, peer-reviewed research publications are:

  • Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a free search engine containing many scholarly works. It has numerous databases covering multiple disciplines, offering fast retrieval, and is easy to use.


Founded in 1994 by William G. Bowen, JSTOR is a free-access digital library offering great academic resources. You can access millions of journals and books covering different subjects.

  • Scopus

It is one of the largest bibliographic databases covering scholarly articles on many subjects. Besides research papers, Scopus offers rankings for academic journals, author profiling, and analytical tools. With over 1.4 billion references, Scopus is easy to navigate and is a useful platform for many academic researchers.

  • Web of Science

Launched in 1997 by Clarivate, Web of Science is another huge reference and citation database. It covers over 100 million research items for multiple disciplines. However, only institutions can subscribe and offer free access to their students via the university network.

  • PubMed

PubMed is an authoritative platform that stores over 34 million academic journals for medical and biological studies. You can access links to websites or PDF articles of various publishers for free.

  • ERIC

Eric is your go-to database for education science, covering more than 1.3 million titles. It contains detailed bibliographic records of different literature.

  • IEEE Explore

If you are looking for research items in the engineering field, IEEE is the best source. It is an authoritative platform with more than 5 million academic resources, ranging from journals and books to conference papers. Students and professionals in the field can access the database for free.

  • ScienceDirect

ScienceDirect is a leading portal covering approximately 16 million academic resources. Elsevier has published journals and e-books in multiple disciplines with free access to the public.

Here are some of the parameters that a credible source should meet.

CurrencyThe information in the source should be timely.
RelevanceThe content should meet your academic purpose.
AuthorityThe source should be written by experts in the field.
AccuracyThe information should be true and reliable.
PurposeThe data contained in the source meets its designated purposes and is relevant to your academic area.

When evaluating a research source for credibility, check if it meets the above conditions and work only with the sources meeting all five quality criteria.

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