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How to Find Sources | Scholarly Articles, Books, Etc.

Published on June 13, 2022 by Eoghan Ryan . Revised on November 3, 2022.

It’s important to know how to find relevant sources when writing a  research paper , literature review , or systematic review .

The types of sources you need will depend on the stage you are at in the research process , but all sources that you use should be credible , up to date, and relevant to your research topic.

There are three main places to look for sources to use in your research:

Research databases

Table of contents

Library resources, other online sources, frequently asked questions about finding sources.

You can search for scholarly sources online using databases and search engines like Google Scholar . These provide a range of search functions that can help you to find the most relevant sources.

If you are searching for a specific article or book, include the title or the author’s name. Alternatively, if you’re just looking for sources related to your research problem , you can search using keywords. In this case, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the scope of your project and of the most relevant keywords.

Databases can be general (interdisciplinary) or subject-specific.

Example: JSTOR discipline search filter

Filtering by discipline

Check the table below to find a database that’s relevant to your research.

Google Scholar

To get started, you might also try Google Scholar , an academic search engine that can help you find relevant books and articles. Its “Cited by” function lets you see the number of times a source has been cited. This can tell you something about a source’s credibility and importance to the field.

Example: Google Scholar “Cited by” function

Google Scholar cited by function

Boolean operators

Boolean operators can also help to narrow or expand your search.

Boolean operators are words and symbols like AND , OR , and NOT that you can use to include or exclude keywords to refine your results. For example, a search for “Nietzsche NOT nihilism” will provide results that include the word “Nietzsche” but exclude results that contain the word “nihilism.”

Many databases and search engines have an advanced search function that allows you to refine results in a similar way without typing the Boolean operators manually.

Example: Project Muse advanced search

Project Muse advanced search

You can find helpful print sources in your institution’s library. These include:

Make sure that the sources you consult are appropriate to your research.

You can find these sources using your institution’s library database. This will allow you to explore the library’s catalog and to search relevant keywords. You can refine your results using Boolean operators .

Once you have found a relevant print source in the library:

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The AI-powered Citation Checker helps you avoid common mistakes such as:

where to get sources for a research paper

You can consult popular online sources to learn more about your topic. These include:

You can find these sources using search engines. To refine your search, use Boolean operators in combination with relevant keywords.

However, exercise caution when using online sources. Consider what kinds of sources are appropriate for your research and make sure the sites are credible .

Look for sites with trusted domain extensions:

Other sites can still be used, but you should evaluate them carefully and consider alternatives.

You can find sources online using databases and search engines like Google Scholar . Use Boolean operators or advanced search functions to narrow or expand your search.

For print sources, you can use your institution’s library database. This will allow you to explore the library’s catalog and to search relevant keywords.

It is important to find credible sources and use those that you can be sure are sufficiently scholarly .

When searching for sources in databases, think of specific keywords that are relevant to your topic , and consider variations on them or synonyms that might be relevant.

Once you have a clear idea of your research parameters and key terms, choose a database that is relevant to your research (e.g., Medline, JSTOR, Project MUSE).

Find out if the database has a “subject search” option. This can help to refine your search. Use Boolean operators to combine your keywords, exclude specific search terms, and search exact phrases to find the most relevant sources.

There are many types of sources commonly used in research. These include:

You’ll likely use a variety of these sources throughout the research process , and the kinds of sources you use will depend on your research topic and goals.

Scholarly sources are written by experts in their field and are typically subjected to peer review . They are intended for a scholarly audience, include a full bibliography, and use scholarly or technical language. For these reasons, they are typically considered credible sources .

Popular sources like magazines and news articles are typically written by journalists. These types of sources usually don’t include a bibliography and are written for a popular, rather than academic, audience. They are not always reliable and may be written from a biased or uninformed perspective, but they can still be cited in some contexts.

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Ryan, E. (2022, November 03). How to Find Sources | Scholarly Articles, Books, Etc.. Scribbr. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/finding-sources/

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University of Louisville Writing Center

Collecting sources for a research paper can sometimes be a daunting task. When beginning your research, it’s often a good idea to begin with common search engines, like Google, and general descriptions like you can find on Wikipedia. Often though these are not the sources you ultimately want in your paper. Some tips for getting from this beginning research to finding “good” sources include the following.

What can the Writing Center do to help?

Writing Center consultants can meet with you to help you get started and find a good direction when working on a research project. This includes but certainly isn’t limited to brainstorming lists of research terms, deciding which kinds of sources will best help you answer your research question(s), looking at some preliminary helpful sources, and more. Talking about these topics can help you figure out how to approach searching for and finding good sources. We also know how and when to refer you for a follow-up appointment with the Reference Assistance and Instruction department.

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Where to Find Credible Sources for Your Research Paper

Oct 08, 2011 in Proofreading

Finding Credible Sources Online

where to get sources for a research paper

The dreaded research paper can leave many wondering where to go for information. With the Internet being so accessible, it might be tempting to type words into Google and use whatever comes up first. You may get lucky and get great sources, or you may get stuck with less credible sites that leave your professor wondering where you got such information. Learning how to evaluate sources for research paper writing is a key component to your research paper’s success. Here are five tips to help you as you gather your sources:

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Reading sources for your research paper.

Beginning a research paper can be overwhelming unless you know how to set goals for yourself when you read. Think of gathering sources as a triangle where the top are the 5-6 excellent sources:

5-6 excellent sources -read 10-12 good ones-skim 20-30 available sources-find 40 titles in databases-begin with

For a research paper of about 7-10 pages, you should think of gathering 40 titles exactly on your subject from a variety of places (see below). But only 20-30 will be available to you (some will be missing, others don’t arrive in time from interlibrary loan, others are misleading and don’t relate to your subject at all). When you do find what is available, then skim these sources and make a quick decision: yes or no? Those that look good (that answer your research question) you save. Pitch those that don’t address your specific question. Finally, we come to READING. Save your precious time only for those 5-6 BEST sources; those are the ones you want for quotes and paraphrases in your eventual draft.


Most students need a variety of sources–not just books or journal articles or web sites. Think of checking out the following sources for your paper:

books, chapters in books (books are often easier to read than journals)

journal articles

magazine articles

newspaper articles

Internet Web sites

You find these sources through INDEXES, either on the computer or in the library reserve section. An index is a collection of what’s been written in a particular area for a particular year. At CSU, you can access these indexes through the library web site using the following steps:

find the CSU web site www.csuohio.edu

go to the libraries page: Michael Schwartz Library ( http://library.csuohio.edu/) Law Library ( https://www.law.csuohio.edu/lawlibrary/ )

click on Indexes and Abstracts

you can search by Title and Subjec t

the most general index is Periodical Abstracts – good for quick info but not always scholarly

check a number of databases until your subject comes up easily – don’t get discouraged – no one knows all these databases or how they work, just keep at it for about 1-2 hours.

be VERY VERY selective about the titles you pick – aim for 40 on your subject. The databases can bring up thousands of hits–be very selective.


Once you have a working title list, make another separate trip to the library for the next step–this stuff can be very tedious and your short term memory tires quickly so it’s better to make separate trips of only 2 hours maximum.

Now you have to find your sources. If you go into OhioLink, you can check whether CSU owns it or not. If we do, you can find the source yourself in the library. If not, you have 2 choices. If another OhioLink school owns it, make your request through OhioLink. If no school owns it, you have to go through Interlibrary Loan. You find their web site on the main page of the Library web page. In either case, you don’t have to leave your chair to order your sources. Just remember: OhioLink will NOT call you to tell you your books have arrived. You have to check the SCHOLAR page under "View Your Own Record" to see the status of your order. It takes about a week for most books to come in through OhioLink; Interlibrary Loan can take longer.


For sources you’ve skimmed, make up annotating cards as follows:

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam, 1995. ---looks great for my subject, especially Chap. 9 on marriage

The card has the usual bibliographical information and a quick note to remind yourself about what you wanted to read.

Another set of cards–notecards–can be used for your quotes and paraphrases. The 2 cards–annotating and notetaking cards–make writing easier because your cards can be indexed according to subjects. See the example below:

Goleman success in marriage (my subject) 143–successful couples "show each other that they are being listened to. Since feeling is often exactly what the aggrieved partner is really after, emotionally an act of empathy is a masterly tension reducer."

Writers often keep 2 sets of cards so they can use their research easily in different projects.

If you have any questions, call the Writing Center at ext. 6981.

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Tips for Online Students , Tips for Students

The Ultimate Student Guide To Finding Credible Sources


When it comes to writing a research paper, it’s crucial that you use credible sources to make sure that the information you are stating is actually true. Knowing the difference between credible sources and unreliable sources doesn’t always come so easily with endless information flooding the internet. Thankfully, there are some simple tips that you can use to ensure that you are always using credible sources for research.

What is a Research Paper?

A research paper is a piece of academic writing that uses original research on a specific topic. There are many different types of research papers, ranging from a high school term paper to a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation.

Books and a pair of glasses that belong to a student

Photo by  Wallace Chuck  from  Pexels

How to start a search for sources, 1. start simple.

If you’re wondering how to find sources for a research paper, the easiest and best way to start is simple! Just try browsing through some common search engines to see what you find.

2. Cross Wikipedia off

Wikipedia, although it’s a massive pool of information, should always be avoided when writing a research paper since it allows the public to edit information. Sites such as these often run the risk of lacking accuracy, and is not one of the most credible sources for research.

3. Yes to scholarly databases

Scholarly databases are your best friend when it comes to finding credible sources for research. Online scholarly databases that can be trusted and are known to provide useful information for students include LexisNexis and EBSCO.

4. Newspapers and magazines

Although sometimes biased, newspapers and magazines can also be a great place to find information about current events.

5. The library

While the library seems to be the most obvious place to find information, somehow it’s often forgotten when it comes to research in the modern age. Don’t forget how useful it can truly be!

Types of Credible Sources for Research

1. what are some credible websites.

Many online sources do not necessarily contain information that is correct or has been checked. That’s why it’s of utmost importance to make sure that you’re using the right websites for your research, with government and educational websites generally being the most reliable.

Credible sources for research include: science.gov, The World Factbook, US Census Bureau, UK Statistics, and Encyclopedia Britannica.

2. What are some credible journal articles?

When it comes to journal articles, determining how credible they are comes much easier than other sources. This is generally due to the fact that many of these websites will include valuable information such as how many times the article has been cited, and if its been peer reviewed.

Some great examples of reliable websites for journal articles include Google Scholar, Oxford Academic, Microsoft Academic, Cornell University Library, and SAGE Publishing.

If you are ever not sure how to find credible sources, then there’s the CRAAP test, which takes into account the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose of the article. Take all of these factors into consideration before using a source and determining whether or not it’s credible enough. Even if it takes more time, you’ll be saving yourself tons of time in the long run by not using unreliable sources.

A group of college students working together to find credible sources for their research

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3. what are some credible news sources.

When it comes to news articles, more caution must be taken since it’s hard to know which sources are truly reliable and unbiased. The CRAAP test is also useful in this type of article for research.

A few examples of credible news sources include The New York Times, Bloomberg, and The Washington Post.

The Credibility of a Source

As you search for your research information, you will surely come across the question of how to find credible sources for a research paper. Here are some criteria to focus on to ensure that you only use the most credible of sources.

1. What’s the depth of it?

Always look at the depth of an article, not just the written content. See how long the article is, and if it contains the necessary information such as an abstract, a reference list, and documented data.

2. Who is reading it?

When judging the credibility of an article, it’s important to always ask yourself who the target audience of the article is. Sometimes, sources have a specific goal in mind and it can create certain biases.

3. What’s the goal?

Just as you should do with the audience, also ask yourself what the article is trying to achieve. What is their ultimate goal and how are they persuading you of that?

4. Who wrote it?

Always ask yourself who wrote the article and how reputable they are in the specific field. Look at what other published works they have as well.

5. Can it be trusted?

Overall, it’s key to ask yourself how reputable the source is. What kind of website is it published on? Look at the big picture.

6. Is it relevant to now?

Look at the date of the article, or about the specific things they are mentioning in the article. If it’s from a few years ago, it’s probably not too relevant to your current research.

7. Can it be proven?

While an article may sound incredibly convincing, many people have a way with words and persuasion. Stop and ask yourself whether or not what they are claiming can actually be proven.

A master’s student questioning the credibility of the sources she’s found

Photo by  bruce mars  from  Pexels

How to evaluate source credibility.

By using unreliable sources in your research, it can discredit your status, which is why it’s incredibly important to make sure that any information you are using is up-to-date and accurate.

Here’s how to find credible sources.

1. What is a credible source?

Generally, materials that have been published within the past 10 years are considered to be credible sources for research. Another important factor to consider is the author — if they are well known and respected in their specific fields, that’s also generally a sign that the article is credible. Educational and government-run websites (.gov, .edu) tend to also be a safe source to use, as well as academic databases. Google Scholar is also a no-fail source for reliable information.

2. What is a potentially unreliable source?

Anything that is out of date, meaning it’s been published more than 10 years ago should be avoided. Materials published on social media platforms such as Facebook or personal blogs don’t tend to be the most credible. Always make sure that an article contains proper citations and that the website you are using ends in .com or .org.

Free Resources For Learning

There are many free resources for research available known as open educational resources . They are licensed for free use, with the intention of teaching. They can be determined as credible sources for research if they have a Creative Common license, and if the author has proven to be an expert in their field. Always make sure that the content you are using contains no biases.

Sites For Scholarly Research

When performing scholarly research, it’s extra important to make sure that your sources are credible. Government-run research is considered credible, but beware of any political sites. University and educational websites also tend to be reliable, but still take everything you read with a grain of salt. Company websites also tend to be reliable, although their ultimate goal is usually to promote a product. Organizations which are .org websites can be professional and reliable, however, sometimes they also have their own interests.

Which Sites Can Be Relied On

The internet has no shortage of information out there. That’s why you’ll need these handy tips to determine which to use, and how to distinguish through the vast choices without feeling overwhelmed.

List of Credible Research Sources to Consider

1. government entities.

These websites tend to be reliable since they are highly regulated. Examples include the CIA World Factbook and the United States Justice Statistics.

2. Research Think Tanks

Examples of reliable research think tanks include Rand Corporation, Pew Research Center and The Milken Institute.

3. Academic Libraries and Databases

ProQuest, Scopus, and Jstor are great examples of academic libraries and databases that can be trusted.

4. Professional Standards Organizations

The American Bar Association and The American Psychological Association (APA) are highly credible sources when it comes to professional standards.

How to Write a Research Paper: Step-by-Step

Now that you’re an expert on finding credible sources for research, you’re ready to go! But how do you even start to write a research paper? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

For starters, it’s important to get clear instructions from your professor on what they want. The next step is to start brainstorming ideas for a topic of research. Once you’ve decided and feel confident about it, you’re ready to create your outline and plan out the goal of your research paper.

Befriend your librarian and start to search for quality and credible sources through a variety of means. Make sure you understand your topic from top to bottom before you start writing.  As you write, be sure to always keep things factual, and that you finalize your thesis statement throughout your paper — not just at the end. That’s what’s going to guide your writing. Be sure to always keep format in mind, never forget to cite your sources, and to never skip those edits and final checks.

Now you are ready to write a high-quality, fact-driven research paper that’s sure to impress your professors.

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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 4. Appropriate Sources


What Source Should You Use?

What type of information do you need.

The type of sources you might need for your research will depend on the type of research you are conducting. Familiarizing yourself with various types of sources will help you with both your current paper and future research. Below you will find a quick overview of common types of resources that will help you navigate how best to choose sources for your research.

 Broad categories of information and where you can find them can be broken down into the following areas:

Scholarly Resources

Scholarly resources (sometimes called academic resources) have the following qualities:

Peer review is an important process in scholarly communication. The process of peer review is supposed to ensure that corrections are made to an article before publication, holding the article's content to a higher standard. 

Scholarly journals are the main publication format for scholarly research. Most scholarly journals are available for students online and are accessible through library databases. Find out more about library databases below. 

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Resources

Sometimes you will be asked to find resources categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary resources. For historical research, the library has an excellent guide, Understanding Historical Sources ,  breaking down these types of resources and where you can find them. 

It should be noted that a primary source in the scientific disciplines looks a little different than a primary historical source. Put simply, a primary source in the sciences would be the original research, data, or material that forms the basis for other research. For example, the first time research about a new scientific discovery is published would be the primary source. A paper that analyzes or interprets the original research would be a secondary source. A tertiary source would collect and summarize the information from both the primary and secondary sources. 

Choosing a Resource

The library has many way to help you narrow down what source to use for your research.

Choosing the Best Database for Your Project

You will learn about search techniques in a later step of the research process. But for now you can watch a quick video that will help you determine how to choose the best database for your project . 

10 Best Online Websites and Resources for Academic Research

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where to get sources for a research paper

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Every college student conducts research at some point. And professors have strong views on what counts as a credible academic resource. Choosing the wrong sources can hurt your grade.

So how can you conduct research efficiently while avoiding sleepless nights in the campus library? Online academic research websites make it easier to find reliable sources quickly.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

College students conduct academic research in all kinds of disciplines, including science, history, literature, engineering, and education. And when it comes to college research papers , academic resources are the best sources.

Rather than pulling random facts from the internet — and running into problems with citations — college students need to know how to find credible sources and how to use online academic tools. Keep reading to learn how you can find the best credible sources for your college research needs.

How to Find Credible Sources for Research

How can you find credible sources for research and avoid misinformation? Your instructor likely recommends avoiding general web content or Wikipedia.

Finding the most reliable websites for research starts with evaluating the website itself. Sites run by academic or government organizations rank high in reliability. Databases and specialized search engines can also provide good research sources.

Next, make sure you understand the source of the information and the process used to publish it. Scholarly articles and books that undergo peer review make for the best academic resources.

Finally, when in doubt, check with your instructor or an academic librarian. They can help point you to reliable sources or double-check sources you're unsure about.

The 10 Best Academic Research Sources

What resources will point you toward reliable sources for your academic research? Rather than scrolling through pages of search results, turn to these academic resources when you need to find sources.

1. Google Scholar

Looking for an academic article, thesis , or abstract? Google Scholar should be your first stop. Google Scholar helps you find related works, locate full documents at your school library , and access scholarly research.

While Google created Google Scholar, it's very different from a general online search. Google Scholar brings together academic articles and ranks them based on the authors, publication location, and citation record. That means the top results generally represent the most reliable scholarship on your topic.

For journal articles, books, images, and even primary sources, JSTOR ranks among the best online resources for academic research. JSTOR's collection spans 75 disciplines, with strengths in the humanities and social sciences . The academic research database includes complete runs of over 2,800 journals.

And if you're looking for images, turn to Artstor , which offers over 2.5 million images related to the arts, sciences, and literature. However, JSTOR is not an open-access database. That means you'll need to log in through your university library, which typically includes off-campus access .

3. Library of Congress

As the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress is an amazing online resource for academic research. Students can search its collections to access digital resources, videos, audio recordings, photographs, and maps.

The library's materials also include notated music, web archives, legislation, and 3D objects. You'll find materials for almost any topic in its extensive collections. You can search historic American newspapers from 1777-1963 with the Chronicling America tool or look up pirate trials in another digital collection.

4. PubMed Central

The National Library of Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, runs PubMed Central. Founded in 2000, the database includes academic scholarship dating back to the 18th century. The resource connects college students with life sciences and biomedical academic sources.

And as an open-access database, PubMed Central offers free access to scholarly literature. Today, PubMed Central has over 7 million full-text records, making it a great resource for students in the life sciences or medical fields.

5. Google Books

Whether you're looking for a recent publication or an out-of-print book, there's a good chance you'll find it on Google Books. In 2019, Google announced that Google Books contains over 40 million books .

You can enter any search term to find books that contain matches. And you can download the full text of any book in the public domain — which includes 10 million titles. Make sure to check publisher and author information when using Google Books.

The site also includes reference pages that link to book reviews. Keep in mind that you'll have more limited access to recent books. Still, Google Books is a great first step to find sources that you can later look for at your campus library.

6. Science.gov

If you're looking for scientific research, Science.gov is a great option. The site provides full-text documents, scientific data, and other resources from federally funded research.

A U.S. government site, Science.gov searches more than 60 databases and 2,200 scientific websites. You'll find over 200 million pages of research and development information, including projects funded by 14 federal agencies. Students in any STEM field can benefit from the resource.

7. Digital Commons Network

University librarians curate the Digital Commons Network, which connects students with peer-reviewed articles. The site's other resources include dissertations, book chapters, conference proceedings, and working papers.

The Digital Commons Network includes scholarly work from diverse disciplines like architecture, business, education, law, and the sciences. You can also access humanities, social sciences, and engineering scholarship through the network.

8. ResearchGate

ResearchGate has been described as social networking for research scientists. But ResearchGate is also a great option to find open-access academic sources. Scholars upload their work to ResearchGate, which makes it available to the public for free.

Currently, over 20 million researchers around the world use the site, which contains over 135 million publications. College students looking for scientific research can often find resources on ResearchGate and even connect with scholars.

9. WorldCat

When you're looking for library resources, WorldCat is one of the best tools. Connected to over 10,000 libraries, WorldCat is a database that allows you to search library collections.

The database lists books and articles available at your local libraries, making it easier to find materials that are not available online. In addition to books, WorldCat contains music, videos, audiobooks, and scholarly articles.

You can also find digital research materials, including photos. When you're logged into WorldCat through your university library, you can also access full-text articles and other resources. Or you can use WorldCat to find sources to request through interlibrary loan.

10. Your University Library

When you're conducting academic research, your university library can be one of your best resources. In addition to online databases, journal articles, and books, your campus library also has academic librarians who can point you to the best sources.

When you don't know where to start, reach out to an academic librarian to learn more about your school's research tools. Or use interlibrary loan to get a scanned copy of an article. Many of the campus library's resources are available online, making them easy to access.

How to Access Academic Resources

Many sites offer open-access resources. That means anyone can access the materials. Other sites restrict what you can read. For example, you might find some blank pages when searching on Google Books because of copyright restrictions. And many academic articles are behind paywalls.

Fortunately, college students benefit from one of the best resources for conducting research: the university library. Your library likely subscribes to multiple academic databases and journals. If you run into a paywall, check whether your library offers access to the resource.

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How To Find Sources For A Research Paper

How To Find Sources For A Research Paper

Brittany Storniolo

Any good research paper needs to sustain its arguments using strong sources. The problem is, how do you find these sources? No matter the field, there’s always a huge corpus of material out there, and you can’t read it all just to find the few books or articles which are actually relevant to your research. 

In our complete guide to researching a paper , we covered the basics of finding sources, as well as how to cite and manage references efficiently when writing an essay or research paper. In this article, we’re going to cover a few more methods that you can use to find references for your research . 

Whether it’s for a thesis paper, academic journal, or professional research, here’s how to find sources for your paper the right way.

Mine the Bibliography

Remember the difference between primary and secondary sources ! 

If a source provides a firsthand look at an event or phenomenon directly, it’s usually a primary source, meaning things like original medical research, historical documents, or eyewitness accounts of events.

If it uses primary sources to build its arguments or evaluates those primary sources themselves, it’s most likely a secondary source . Depending on your field of study, either type of source may have footnotes and a bibliography of works cited that you can use to find other relevant references for your research .

Examine everything your source says that relates to your topic. Check who the source relies on for its arguments by checking the notes, whether those are footnotes or endnotes. 

Then, go one step further: See what other publications the footnote articles cite and who wrote them, and that’ll lead you to even more primary and secondary sources that you can use. 

Leverage Online Databases

More and more material goes online every day, so there’s a lot less need to have access to a physical library in order to conduct in-depth research for an academic paper. 

To find secondary sources , there are any number of online journals and resources that you can consult, with tens of thousands of books, journals, and studies available for every field of academic study. JSTOR , Academia.edu , Scribd , Google Scholar , and the Internet Archive are all good choices to get started (although some will require you to purchase a subscription or pay to download certain materials). However, generally speaking, if you search through several of these online journal databases, you should be able to find nearly every reference for your research that you’re looking for.

Don’t neglect your own institution’s online resources, either! Most colleges and universities generally have an online repository of their own published research (a great primary source ), or digital versions of their library catalogue available to read online. 

This is helpful not just as a library, but also as another way to mine a bibliography. Consult your institutional database, in particular wherever the dissertations are held. Look for a recent dissertation that’s close to your topic—the more recent, the better. A dissertation or thesis can be a great secondary source , as it generally has a literature review in front, which you can scan to both find and evaluate new sources.

Browse the Shelves

If you have access to a library and you already have a list of books, don’t stop at just your intended book list. The system of library classification means that books on related topics cluster close together. Check up and down the shelf – you might well find a book that’s relevant, but you’ve never come across before in your online search.

Consult the Archives

For some topics, archival research may be necessary. Archives collect unpublished material. Records that see publication are for libraries to deal with, but if it’s something that might not have wide circulation among the general public, an archive is your best bet. They’re an excellent place to find records, primary sources , or research papers, and sometimes you’ll even come across juicy debates carried out by academics in letters.

where to get sources for a research paper

Accessing an archive to find references for your research can take a bit of effort, however. You’ll need to make an appointment ahead of time, usually via email. Tell them what you’re researching and what records you’re interested in, and your date of visit. If you’re still doubtful about whether certain papers may be useful, most archives are willing to have a short look at the records in question to see if they do pertain to your topic prior to you coming in.

Thankfully, archivists have been actively reducing the number of obstacles in the way of researchers, so you won’t have to resort to calling or emailing the archives directly just to see if they have what you need. For the US, ArchiveGrid helps to find which archive has the material you need, while the Digital Public Library of America is a unified catalogue for digital collections.

Ask The Librarians

Libraries are a great place to find secondary sources . No matter how familiar you may be with the library, there’s someone there who knows it much better than you do—the librarian. They know the shelves front and back, so even if they don’t know your topic specifically, they can point you in the right direction, or recommend something that you might not have considered.

where to get sources for a research paper

Libraries also maintain certain digital resources, like records on CDs or specialized databases, which are best accessed with a librarian’s assistance. They can do the sorting for you and make sure that you’ll get something that’s useful, thus reducing the time you spend sifting through material to find references for your research . They can also give you access to specialized databases, which contain a wealth of information, but may require an administrative password.

Streamlining Your Workflow

All of the above does take a deal of work, but there are some alternatives. Flowcite’s Knowledge Library integrates with multiple knowledge repositories, combining all of these research avenues into a single platform. Instead of searching through each paper or journal article individually, Flowcite’s AI-assisted search can go through all of them and provide you with relevant references for your research based on your previous searches. 

There may still be times where you’ll have to buckle up and go to the library, but those visits will only be for primary or secondary sources that you can’t find online anywhere.

Gone are the days of frantic Googling, hoping to find a goldmine resource amongst all the inexpert blogs and paywalled material that you can’t access on the internet. Flowcite’s Knowledge Library makes sure you only use reputable references in your research , and that you can access them all without having to pay extra. 


These methods will help you find the sources you need to back up your paper. Whether it’s bibliographies, shelves, archives, or digital repositories, there are many ways to find supporting material for a research paper, as long as you know where to look.

All this and the work of writing and citing your paper may look intimidating, and that’s where Flowcite comes in. Flowcite’s Reference Management 3.0 brings you not only a unified database integrated with the Knowledge Library, but also all the tools necessary to write your paper, apply citations and formatting, and proofread the finished product.

There’s no need to bounce between a dozen tabs and text editors at once just to write your paper. Flowcite offers all you need in just one program. 

Get started with Flowcite today for free and start conducting your research in minutes, not hours.

where to get sources for a research paper

Content Marketing Strategist

Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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Finding Sources

Gathering information for essays which require research: background, finding sources--explanation, primary & secondary sources, on-line(card) catalog, magazines & journals, indexes & abstracts, newspaper indexes, reference books, library of congress subject heading index, internet resources, knowledgeable people, interlibrary loan, reference librarian.

Gathering sources is much more complex than it used to be. For starters, there are more resources available. Secondly, information can be gathered in a number of places. Your primary places for locating sources will be:

The library

This section provides an overview of important concepts and techniques in gathering information for research essays. You should read this section before going to more specific information on types of sources, documentation, etc. and before trying the sample exercises.

Find the computer labeled for searching the library's collection of books and other materials or the card catalog.  Most libraries have separate computers set aside specifically for searching the library's collections which do not require a reservation and are not time-limited as the open Internet computers usually are.  If you plan to use a computer for searching for Internet sources, make sure to respect the library's reservation system if there is one. 

The card catalog computer in the library usually will have instructions attached to it. Most library systems allow you to search by title, author, or subject headings, and most are cross-referenced. Filtering by books available in that specific location may be helpful also if you are limited in time and cannot wait for a book to be transferred from one library to another (interlibrary loan).  If you know which books you want, or know a specific author who has written books about the field that you are researching, then go ahead and use the title or author categories in the computer. You also may find it very helpful to use the subject heading category, which will offer you more options for the books that might be useful to you in doing your research.  Librarians are usually more than willing to assist with the search or in finding the sources once you have written down the call numbers of the books in which you are interested.

The subject heading category allows you to put in key words that might lead to books in your interest area. Don't limit yourself, though, by putting in words that are too narrow or too broad. If your search words are too narrow, you will not find many sources; on the other hand if they are too broad, you will not find the search useful either.

Key words are words that relate to your topic but are not necessarily in your thesis statement (note that it will be most helpful if you have a clear idea about your topic before you begin this type of research, although research can also help to narrow your thesis). For example, if you are searching for information about women in the Civil War, it would be too broad to enter just "women" and "war." You would find too many sources this way. It might also be too narrow to enter the name of a specific woman--you probably need more historical context. Try key phrases such as "women and Civil War" or "girls and Civil War." You want to find as many books that might be helpful on the subject that you are searching, without providing yourself with so much information that you lose sight of your original topic.

You will also discover that there is another great way to find books that might be helpful to you. As you find books on your topic listed in the computer, you can then track those books down on the shelf. After a few minutes of searching on the computer, you will start to see that certain books have call numbers (the number on the book's spine that tells its location in the library) that are similar. After you finish your work on the computer, ask a reference librarian, or follow the signs on the walls to locate the call numbers that correspond with your books. When you get to the section where your book is located, don't just look at that book. Look around, too. Sometimes you will find great resources that you were unaware of just by looking on the shelf. Because libraries are generally organized by topic, you can often find some real "gems" this way. Also check the index in the front or the back of the book (the one in the back is always more detailed, but not all books have one) to be sure that the information you are looking for is in the book. A book can have a great title, but no information. On the other hand, a book that doesn't seem to go along with what you are doing can turn out to have a lot of usable information.

Books are generally a great resource--they often contain a lot of information gathered into one place, and they can give you a more thorough investigation of your topic. As you are reading a book, journal article, or newspaper article, you should keep the following questions in mind, which will help you understand how useful the book will be to you.


Magazines (including Time or Newsweek) are called periodicals as they are published periodically (weekly, monthly, etc.). Most libraries only keep the most current issues of these magazines on the shelf. The rest are bound together in collections, usually by year. These are usually kept in a separate room (in the basement, to my experience!) where you can go and look at them. Usually, the location is a place called "the stacks," which is where you go to look for periodicals that are older than the current issue. Remember that you can't take these out of the library. If you find articles that you want to take home, you need to photocopy them. Newspaper articles are sometimes in the bound periodicals, but are more often found on microfiche or microfilm.

Make sure to distinguish between general interest magazines and professional journals; this is an important distinction in college-level research.

Microfiche or microfilm is a device which can be extremely frustrating. Don't hesitate to ask for help from your nearby reference person. Microfiche or microfilm comes in two forms--small cards of information (fiche), or long film-type strips of information (film). Once you insert these into the microfiche or microfilm machine (and there are separate machines for each), you will be able to see the text of the article that you are looking for. Often, you will have to scan through quite a bit of film to find what you are looking for. Microfiche and microfilm are kept in boxes, and sometimes you have to request the date that you are looking for. Don't give up! With persistence, you can find some wonderful resources on microfiche and microfilm.

Other computer resources (CDROM, specialized databases etc)

Many libraries today, especially if they are larger libraries, have information available on CDROM or through what are called specialized databases. Be sure to tell a reference librarian what you are working on, and ask her advice on whether or not there is information available on CDROM or through a specialized database.

CDROM's often are put out by groups such as History Societies (there is an entire set on the Civil War, for example). Government documents are currently available on CDROM and often offer updated information (census data, for example). The reference librarian can tell you which CDs might be the most helpful and can help you sign them out and use them.

There are many specialized databases. Some examples are ERIC, the educational database, and Silver Platter, which offers texts of recent articles in particular subjects (yep, the whole article is available right through the computer, which is often less time-consuming than looking through the stacks for it) The American Psychological Association has the titles of articles on specific subjects (psychology, sociology, etc). Sociofile is another example. Ask your reference librarian to see exactly what is available. One good thing about specialized databases is that you already know the source and orientation of the article. You also know that the source is a valid and reputable one. You will need the reference librarian's help getting into specialized databases--most libraries require that the databases have passwords. Warning: Bring your own paper if you plan on doing this type of research! Many libraries allow you to print from the databases, but you must supply your own paper.

Internet/Web Research

Internet research is another popular option these days. You can research from home if you have internet search capabilities, or you usually can research from the library. Most libraries have internet connections on at least a few computers, although sometimes you need to sign up for them in advance. Even if there doesn't seem to be much of a crowd around, be sure to sign up on the sheet so that you don't have someone come along and try to take your spot.

Internet research can be very rewarding, but it also has its drawbacks. Many libraries have set their computers on a particular search engine, or a service that will conduct the research for you. If you don't find what you are looking for by using one search engine, switch to another (Google, Yahoo, etc... are all good choices).

Internet research can be time consuming. You will need to search much the way you would on the library database computers--simply type in key words or authors or titles, and see what the computer comes up with. Then you will have to read through the list of choices that you are given and see if any of them match what you think you are looking for.

WARNING ABOUT INTERNET RESEARCH: There are a lot of resources on the internet that are not going to be valuable to you. Part of your internet research will include evaluating the resources that you find. Personal web pages are NOT a good source to go by--they often have incorrect information on them and can be very misleading. Be sure that your internet information is from a recognized source such as the government, an agency that you are sure is a credible source (the Greenpeace web page, for example, or the web page for the National Institute of Health), or a credible news source (CBS, NBC, and ABC all have web pages). A rule of thumb when doing internet research: if you aren't sure whether or not the source is credible, DON'T USE IT!! One good source to help you determine the credibility of online information is available from UCLA: Thinking Critically about World Wide Web Resources. Check out the Content and Evaluation and Sources and Data sections. (Click  here for that source.)

Taking notes, paraphrasing, and quoting

Taking notes is an important part of doing research. Be sure when you take notes that you write down the source that they are from! One way of keeping track is to make yourself a "master list"--a number list of all of the sources that you have. Then, as you are writing down notes, you can just write down the number of that source. A good place to write notes down is on note cards. This way you can take the note cards and organize them later according to the way you want to organize your paper.

While taking notes, also be sure to write down the page number of the information. You will need this later on when you are writing your paper.


Any time that you use information that is not what is considered "common knowledge" (rule of thumb--knowledge included in three or more sources), you must acknowledge your source. For example, when you paraphrase or quote, you need to indicate to your reader that you got the information from somewhere else. This scholarly practice allows your reader to follow up that source to get more information. You must create what is called a citation in order to acknowledge someone else's ideas. You use parentheses () in your text, and inside the parentheses you put the author's name and the page number (there are several different ways of doing this. You should look at your course guide carefully to determine which format you should be using). Two standard formats, MLA and APA, stand for the Modern Language Association, and the American Psychological Association. Check out more specific information on how to document sources .

Using sources to support your ideas is one characteristic of the research paper that sets it apart from personal and creative writing. Sources come in many forms such as magazine and journal articles, books, newspapers, videos, films, computer discussion groups, surveys, or interviews. The trick is to find and then match appropriate, valid sources to your own ideas.

But where do you go to obtain these sources? For college research papers, you will need to use sources available in academic libraries (college or university libraries as opposed to public libraries). Here you will find journals and other texts that go into more depth in a discipline and are, therefore, more appropriate for college research than those sources written for the general public.

Some, though not all, of these sources are now in electronic format, and may be accessible outside of the library using a computer. The SUNY Empire State College web site includes a useful list of online learning resources .

Primary sources are original, first-hand documents such as creative works, research studies, diaries, and letters, or interviews you conduct.

Secondary sources are comments about primary sources such as analyses of creative work or original research, or historical interpretations of diaries and letters.

You can use a combination of primary and secondary sources to answer your research question, depending on the question and the type of sources it requires.

If you're writing a paper on the reasons for a certain personality disorder, you may read an account written by a person with that personality disorder, a case study by a psychiatrist, and a textbook that summarizes a number of case studies. The first-hand account and the psychiatrist's case study are primary sources, written by people who have directly experienced or observed the situation themselves. The textbook is a secondary source, one step removed from the original experience or observation.

For example, if you asked what the sea symbolized in Hemingway's story "The Old Man and the Sea," you'd need to consult the story as a primary source and critics' interpretations of the story as a secondary source.

Again, find the computer labeled for searching the library's collection of books and other materials or the card catalog.  Most libraries have separate computers set aside specifically for searching the library's collections which do not require a reservation and are not time-limited as the open Internet computers usually are.  If you plan to use a computer for searching for Internet sources, make sure to respect the library's reservation system if there is one.  Look up sources by author, title, or subject.  Most of the searches that you do for a research paper will be subject searches, unless you already know enough about the field to know some standard sources by author or title.

When using an on-line catalog or a card catalog, make sure to jot down the source's name, title, place of publication, publication date, and any other relevant bibliographic information that you will need later on if you choose to use the source in your research paper. Also remember to record the call number, which is the number you use to find the item in the library.

Magazines are written for the general public, so they contain articles that do not present a subject in depth.

Journals are written by and for professionals in various fields and will provide you with in-depth, specific information.

Your professors will expect you to use some journals; in fact, the more advanced your courses are, the more you should be using journal articles in your research (as opposed to magazine articles).

How do you find articles to answer your research question?  It's inefficient to go through volumes of magazines and journals, even if you could think of appropriate ones. Most magazine and journal articles are referenced in either an index or an abstract.

An index lists magazine or journal articles by subject. Find the correct subject heading or keyword to search for articles. Write down all the information for each article. Check the index's abbreviation key if you can't understand the abbreviations in the entry. Make sure to write down all of the entry's information so you can find the article IF your library carries the magazine or journal. If not, you can use the information to request the article through interlibrary loan.

Specific indices (the "correct" plural of index) exist for journals in just about every field of study (Business Index, Social Science Index, General Science Index, Education Index, and many more), while there's only one major index to general interest magazines (The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature). Many libraries have many of these indices on their on-line systems; check with the reference librarian if you have a question about indices available on-line.

An abstract is like an index with a brief description of the article's content added. You'll soon see that it's great to be researching in a field that has an abstract, since this short explanation can help you make an early decision about the relevance of the article to your research question or working thesis.

A bound, printed abstract takes two steps to use. The first step is the same--find the appropriate subject heading in the index portion and write down all of the information in the entry. Note that the entry will also include a number or some kind of an identifying code. Then use the number or code in the "abstracts" portion to find a description of the type of information that's in the article.

Many libraries have abstracts in CD-ROM form. Because indexes will be accessed in different ways and because the technology is changing so rapidly, follow the on-screen instructions and/or ask the reference librarian.

Again, if an article seems appropriate, write down all of the entry information so you can find the article in your library or through interlibrary loan and so you'll have the information for your works cited or references list at the end of your paper.

The most commonly used index to newspaper articles is the New York Times Index, organized alphabetically by subject. Find the appropriate subject heading and jot down the information so you can find the article, which is usually on microfilm, unless you're dealing with a very recent issue of the Times. Your local newspaper also may publish an index, which may be useful if you are researching local history or politics.

There are many general reference books that may be useful to your research in a variety of ways.

Encyclopedias provide background information about a subject. Note that you should confine your use of encyclopedias to background information only, since their information is too general to function as an appropriate source for a college paper.

Specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries provide background in specific fields (e.g., a dictionary of music terms, a biographical encyclopedia of American authors, explanations of legal terms).

Facts on File and Statistical Abstracts provide brief bits of statistical information that can aid your research. For example, if you're doing on a paper on airline safety since deregulation, it's a safe bet that you can find statistics on airline safety problems in one of these reference books.

Other reference books abound (e.g., Book Review Digest, medical, and legal dictionaries). Take time, at some point, to browse your library's shelves in the reference section to see how many different types of reference books exist and to consider how you may use them. It will be time well-spent.  Remember to write down all of the information that you need from these sources as they are almost always not allowed to be used outside of the library.

The Library of Congress provides an indexing system; most academic libraries index their books using Library of Congress subject headings. The Library of Congress publishes a Subject Heading Index listing all of the subject headings that they use.

Why bother knowing this information? The Subject Heading Index is a good tool for you as a researcher. If you're not getting exactly the right books you need through your on-line subject search, check this index to find the appropriate subject heading to use.

If you are finding too much information, check this index to see at a glance all of the various headings and sub-headings for the subject. You can get an idea of how to narrow down and focus your subject simply by scanning these various headings and sub-headings.

Just note that these subject headings relate to books only. Magazine and journal indexes and abstracts will use their own subject headings (but the Library of Congress headings can at least give you an idea of the types of headings to use).

The important thing to remember here is that, by the time a book is printed, the information is at least a couple of years old. So if you're doing research that requires very recent information, a newspaper, magazine, or journal is your best bet.

If the age of the information is not an issue (and it's not, in many cases), then a book's fuller treatment of a subject is a good choice.

It's also useful to move from virtual cyberspace into actual, physical space and "real time" when you search for books. That means that you should get yourself into the library. Sometimes a look through the stacks (the shelves on which the books are located) will turn up additional information that's relevant to your research question or working thesis.

The Internet provides access to a lot of information. The SUNY Empire State College Online Library provides access to a number of useful databases on a wide variety of topics. The Internet provides access to many on-line catalogs so you can review the types of books available in the field (and carried by that particular library).

The Internet also provides access to a few full-text electronic journals (which means that you can read and print the article right from the screen). Government information (e.g., policy statements, laws, treaties) are also widely available in full-text format.

You can even find other writing resources .

The Internet can link you up with individuals who might have expertise on the topic you are researching. You can find these people by joining electronic discussion groups (newsgroups) or maillists. These forums are usually categorized by topic (e.g., a maillist on ECOLOGY). By posting a question to the group or maillist, you can obtain useful information from knowledgeable people willing to share their expertise.

The one big problem with the Internet is that you sometimes need to sift . . . and sift . . . and sift through it to find exactly what you want. You also have to be critical of what you find, since anyone can post and even change anything that's out there in cyberspace, and you won't necessarily know if someone answering your query is really an expert in the field. But if you persevere, and even if you just play around with it, the Internet can offer some gems of information in a quick, easy way.

Don't underestimate the power of interviewing knowledgeable people as part of your research. For example, if you're researching a topic in local history, consult the town historian or a local resident who experienced what you're researching. People who have "been there" and "done that" can add a real richness to your research. (For example, who better than a former Olympic athlete to provide information about the emotional effects of athletic competition?)

You can consult knowledgeable people in print as well. If you find one or two names that keep popping up in your research (if others consistently refer to these names and list works by these people in their bibliographies), then you should consult sources by these people, since it's likely that they are considered experts in the field which you are researching.

If your library doesn't carry the book or journal article that you need, you probably can get that source through interlibrary loan. Interlibrary loan is available to all SUNY Empire faculty, staff, and students, and it supplies electronically delivered book chapters and journal articles but no physical media.

One big tip for using interlibrary loan: you will need full and specific information to order the material. So get in the habit of writing all of the information down as you compile your list of sources. For books, write down the author, title, publisher, place, and date of publication. For articles, write down the article title, journal title, author, volume, date, span of page numbers, and the name, year, and page number of the reference source in which you found the article listed. The library needs this information to order your source. More information can be found here Interlibrary Loan FAQs .  If you are using the computer in a public library, many times the request for interlibrary loan is a link directly from the page on which the material you wish to use is listed.  Be sure to keep your library card up-to-date and handy!

Don't be afraid to approach this person, who really is there to help you.

One big tip for working with a reference librarian: you'll get more help the more specific you are. The librarian will immediately be able to suggest a number of places to look if you tell him that your research question is "Why was smoking banned in public places?," or if you tell her that your thesis is "Smoking should be banned in the workplace because of health, safety, and economic reasons." On the other hand, if you tell the librarian that you're researching "smoking," you won't get as much direct help because the topic is so vast.

Need Assistance?

Don't forget: if you would like assistance with this or any other type of writing assignment, learning coaches are available to assist you. Please contact Academic Support by emailing [email protected] .

Questions or feedback about SUNY Empire's Collegewide Writing Support?

Contact us at [email protected] .

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where to get sources for a research paper


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    where to get sources for a research paper

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    where to get sources for a research paper

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  6. Sources (Research Paper)

    where to get sources for a research paper


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  1. How to Find Sources

    Research databases · JSTOR · Oxford Academic · Microsoft Academic · Cornell University Library · SAGE Publishing · Taylor and Francis Online · Academic

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    Some search engines, like Google Scholar, include a link under a source that says “Cited by”—which brings back a list of other sources that have used the source

  3. Where to Find Credible Sources for Your Research Paper

    Finding Credible Sources Online · Start with a simple search. · Avoid Wikipedia. · Use online scholarly databases such as InfoTrac, LexisNexis, and

  4. Reading Sources for your Research Paper

    READING SOURCES FOR YOUR RESEARCH PAPER · books, chapters in books (books are often easier to read than journals) · journal articles · magazine articles · newspaper

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    Scholarly databases are your best friend when it comes to finding credible sources for research. Online scholarly databases that can be trusted and are known to

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    For example, the first time research about a new scientific discovery is published would be the primary source. A paper that analyzes or

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    The 10 Best Academic Research Sources · 1. Google Scholar · 2. JSTOR · 3. Library of Congress · 4. PubMed Central · 5. Google Books · 6. Science.gov.

  8. How To Find Sources For A Research Paper

    JSTOR, Academia.edu, Scribd, Google Scholar, and the Internet Archive are all good choices to get started (although some will require you to

  9. Finding Sources

    Using sources to support your ideas is one characteristic of the research paper that sets it apart from personal and creative writing. Sources come in many

  10. JSTOR Home

    JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources.