Getting Started with Sources
So you've found a several sources and evaluated them for bias, authority, and currency. Now what do you do with all this information you've gathered? How do you combine this with your own thoughts to make a coherent paper? Here's some advice for getting started.
- Start with an outline of ideas you want to cover in your paper. It doesn't have to be a formal outline (unless that is something your professor has assigned as part of the research process), but even a list of general ideas to cover and the order you want to cover them is helpful. If you would like to do a more formal outline, consult the OWL for ideas.
- Quickly read through all your sources to get an overview of what you have to work with. Don't worry about taking notes, just skim sources to get an general overview and a feel for if you are missing any information you may need. If there are holes in your research, look for that information before continuing. Remember to consult a librarian if you need assistance.
- Read each source more carefully, taking notes this time. You have several options for taking notes, so do whichever works best for you. Remember to keep track of where the information is coming from when you are taking notes so you can properly credit sources!
- Highlight passages on the sources
- Take notes on note cards, either real or virtual
- Take notes on a notepad or type into a Word doc
- Take notes on your outline, putting the information into the section of the outline where it will fit.
- Organize your notes in the order you will use them, based on your outline.
But what do you actually put in these notes and how do you work other people's thoughts into your writing? Here are some ideas based on techniques from the book Rewriting: How to do Things with Texts by Joseph Harris.
As you look over your sources think about these questions. The answers will be the basis for most of your notes.
- What do you agree with?
- What do you disagree with?
- Are there particular passages that speak to you, perhaps things that the writer of the sources says particularly well? These are the things you may want to include as direct quotations in your paper.
- Does this source help you see your research topic in a new way? If a source produces more questions in your mind, you may want to do more research. (This is why it's call REsearch. You may have to do it again. And again. Remember, you are having fun.)
- What evidence does the writer provide that you could use to back up your own points?
- Are there terms or concepts used in the source that will help you better explain your points?
Harris says that "critique needs to lead to alternatives" (56). Remember that you are not just repeating what the sources says when you agree with it, but expanding upon it. You should not just prove the source wrong when you disagree, but provide other options. You are not trying to finish the debate, "but to respond to prior views in ways that move the conversation in new directions" (56). A college level research paper (or other project) generally will include your own ideas, supported by evidence from reliable sources. You do not want to just string together a series of quotations and paraphrases from your sources, but rather present your own ideas supplemented by supported evidence (your sources, properly cited).