Chapter 1: Research
With today’s easy access to the internet and its limitless resources, finding appropriate sources seems like the easiest part of your work as a writer. Simply think up a topic, plug it into a search engine like Google, and search up the results. Pick the first likely-looking source and your job is done. Right?
In fact, it’s not so simple. The internet is a little bit like the Wild West: there are very few rules. If you pick up a book and open it to a particular chapter, the book publisher almost certainly assigned it an editor, whose job it is to go over the author’s work and make sure it is accurate and well written before publication. This is not so on the internet, so the source you choose may be poorly written, irrelevant to your writing, or simply wrong. And since you yourself have to do the work of an editor in figuring out if your source is appropriate, it’s worth taking some time to make sure you choose a source that will be useful and helpful to you in your writing. After all, having to choose an entirely different source and rewrite your assignment from scratch takes a lot more time than vetting your source in the first place. And by that point, your deadline is probably getting a lot closer—not the most enjoyable writing situation!
Hence, as a general rule, allow for about as much time for researching as you do for writing.
There are some tools that can help you, such as the CRAAP test. Developed by California State University librarians under the leadership of Sarah Blakeslee, this test evaluates the Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose of your electronic source.
If you don’t want to do all that work yourself, try a print source, or a trusted name in print that also publishes a website, like a newspaper such as The Globe and Mail or The New York Times, or a magazine like The Walrus or The Economist. Be aware, however, that even respected magazines, newspapers, and books have particular aspects that may make them more or less suitable for your work. The Walrus is a Canadian magazine that includes fiction, commentary, and feature articles. It would not be a good source for a science paper, for example. For that, you would need to find a magazine focused on scientific topics, like, well, Science.
Finally, make sure you can reference your source. In academic writing, you are expected to list the source in two places: briefly in your writing and more fully in a bibliography afterward. If you can’t find the information on where and when the source was published, including names, dates, and page numbers, you may not be able to provide a complete entry for your bibliography. You’d think the internet would make finding such information easier, but in fact, many sources are published on the web with incomplete information about where they came from, and it can be difficult to track that information down when you need it most.
- Find an appropriate source for a paragraph about the events that influenced the Prime Minister’s residential schools apology. Explain why the source will be helpful using the CRAAP test.
- Find an inappropriate source for a paragraph about drug legalization in Canada. List at least three reasons why the source is a poor choice for your topic.