8 Step #5: Proper Use of Relevant, Authoritative Sources

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The discovery, analysis, and integration of relevant source material into a research project is referred to as a “research methodology.” This can be a daunting, frustrating, and sometimes scary process.

It takes a lot of discipline and courage to boldly go into the world of a given topic to check our ideas against those of authoritative, current, and reliable source material. It can also expose us to the reality that most topics are far more complicated than they originally appear.

This is an essential component of college writing. It is important to get our thoughts and ideas down on paper in clear and understandable ways. But it is equally important to verify, challenge, and expand those ideas by comparing/contrasting them with the most reliable information we can find on our chosen topic.

We do not research just to verify what we already believe about a topic, but to challenge our previously held ideas and, hopefully, move beyond the echo chamber of our own thoughts into a meaningful, substantive dialogue with others who have relevant experience and expertise on the topic.

Doing this will help us to generate a depth of knowledge that goes beyond the superficial and into the real mechanics of knowing. The result will be an essay that is engaging, grounded, and integrative.

The “essay” format itself is intended to get the writer to explore a topic by beginning with a question or idea and then going out into the world of the topic and finding relevant, authoritative sources to help develop, test, and explore that idea.

Authoritative sources do more than just back up the ideas we already have. They challenge us to dive deeper into the topic we are exploring to address their full complexity and broad application. And perhaps, even change our minds entirely.

BEST: When the writer uses relevant, authoritative sources to enhance a dialogue with the audience and themselves around the significant issues the essay addresses. Most effective when they are blended carefully and properly into an honest and focused exploration of the topic that is lead by the writer but open to where the relevant source material can take the discussion.

A strong essay will include enough relevant, authoritative, and reliable sources to help develop and explore the topic and thesis. The exact level of what constitutes “enough” will largely depend on the weight and scope of the thesis and the particulars of a given topic or assignment.

Try to include a variety of sources from various academic, professional and popular institutions to provide a wide array of perspectives on the topic and thesis under discussion. But, a good essay doesn’t JUST report what the source material says.

A strong essay will also effectively blend sources into a focused, academic conversation by integrating them into the larger topic, allowing them to “talk to one another,” and commenting on them in ways that stay true to their original intent but also include your thoughtful responses. Ultimately, the writer is directing the course of the discussion. But the sources should be, in turn, leading the writer.


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The Writing Process by Andrew Gurevich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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