How and Where to Find the Best Sources for Your College Essay



Let’s admit it, nowadays few college students take a genuine interest in writing, especially, if it’s academic writing. A good many learners consider essays, research papers, and other written assignments as a sort of sophisticated academic torture. All know that those who will manage to go through this type of torture will be bestowed with knowledge, skills necessary to find a lucrative job, and diploma, the main trophy students get upon successful completion of their programs. That being said, it’s a rare student who would not dread essay writing. And, as many college students confess, it is the process of searching for relevant sources that add to their reluctance to get down to writing their papers. Needless to say, finding valid and credible sources for one’s academic paper may be extremely time consuming and daunting. Still, without them there is no chance that you will receive accolades for a strong essay. Let’s uncover the secret behind the successful discovery of sources that can help make your essay outstanding.

Gathering Sources for Essays Requiring Research

Paradoxically, at the present time, gathering sources is more complex than it used to say, say, some 30 years ago. Now that the Internet is teeming with various articles, books, websites, and wikis, many students find them unable to figure out which one to pick. What’s more, many wonder if the sources they select can be trusted. With this in mind, college instructors often encourage students to adopt an old-school way of searching for sources, which is going to the library.


Don’t worry, you won’t need to deal with old card catalogs. Almost all catalogs have been replaced by computers, which considerably simplifies the process of locating the necessary books. Still, if you’re working on, say, your history essay whose purpose is to explore the effects of Jim Crow laws on social life in America in the late 19th, you may want to ask the librarian if they still maintain a good old catalogue. This may give you access to truly valuable primary sources that can aid your research.

To pick a source from the online collection, you may take advantage of the search filters your library offer. Thus, you can search by keywords, date, title, author, subject headings, or year of publication.

Specialized Databases

In the Information Age, a good many libraries and scientific communities offer information through specialized databases that may come in handy when you start looking for sources. If you’re currently unfamiliar with such databases, don’t get frustrated. You can ask more experienced students, your professor, or your campus librarian for help. It’s also a good idea to stop by the writing center most colleges now have and contact the writing specialist that will fill you in on details and subtleties of using scholarly databases. Among the most popular and scientifically versatile online scholarly databases are:

  • ERIC (education research database sponsored by the Institute of Education Science);
  • SilverPlatter (scholarly database that features a vast collection of publications in different fields);
  • Questia (one of the most popular online libraries and paper writing resources);
  • EBSCO (a leading provider of research databases for scholars, educators, and students);
  • JSTOR (a time-tested digital library containing a vast array of digitized periodicals, primary sources, and books).

Internet Research

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Internet is the first option most students consider when it comes to writing their essays. This type of search allows you to look for necessary sources from the comfort of your home. It’s fast and convenient. Moreover, you’re well-familiar with it. That said, you should be very careful when conducting our research online. The truth is not all websites and publications you may find in the World Wide Web are credible. Internet research also can be time-consuming and thus tiresome. It may take you several hours to merely make sure the supporting evidence you’re intending to cite in your paper come from a reliable source. So, take care to evaluate the source prior to using it in your research. Steer clear of using and referencing personal web pages and other non-scholarly web resources. The information should come from recognized sources like government, credible social or scientific organization, the web page of official organizations (e.g., the AAP or WHO), etc. If you’re investigating the current incident or social issues, credible news sources such as NBC, BBC, or CBS and periodicals like The Washington Post, The Times, The New York Times, Forbes, or The Economist.

Bottom Line

These are the tips and recommendations that will make your research process less stressful and bothersome. Over time, you acquire the research and analytical skills, which will allow accelerating the process of finding, using, and properly documenting your sources. Hopefully, this will aid you in the essay writing process and improving your overall academic performance.

Isabelle Foster is a professional journalist, technical writer, and columnist. Concurrently she serves as a tutor, educational consultant, and an essay writer at PapersOwl, one of the biggest online education platforms. 


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