Write a College Research Paper: Reading Sources

If you’re new to college or simply have not taken many writing based classes before, you probably find preparing for research paper assignments to be quite staggering. For those who are accustomed to writing short, opinion based essays and nothing more, long research papers are highly vexing and stressful to face. The research and pre-writing process itself can prove very time consuming, especially if you do not know how to read and use citations and sources.

The Importance of Sources

In a research paper, sources are the fundamental building blocks upon which the entire essay is composed. You cannot begin to write (or even outline) your paper until you have amassed a number of high quality sources and read them thoroughly. This is because your sources will determine the main points of your paper, your content, the structure of the essay, and even the position you will advocate for in your text.

You may set out to write about a particular topic with a specific world view, only to have both your content and your opinion switch entirely, all because of the sources you found and read. Sources are also closely reviewed and evaluated by course instructors; you must have a sufficient number of sources from appropriate outlets (such as academic journals or texts), and you must interpret them properly.

How to Read Sources: Take Notes

As you review your sources, go very slowly and make certain to highlight, underline, or otherwise mark any passages that are of interest to you. Practice active reading: after each section or page, stop to reflect on what you have read. Summarize what you have just taken in, using a piece of scrap paper. Make predictions about what facts will discussed next. Ask yourself how you feel about the information you have just encountered. Do you believe it? Do you think it is important to your paper? Make sure to use the facts you find most fascinating in your own research essay.

Read Critically

As you work your way through your many sources, pay close attention to all intellectual and emotional responses you experience. If a source makes a claim that you find dubious or counter-intuitive, take a break to write down exactly what you think and why you think it. Trust your own feelings, and track down additional evidence for any claim of fact you find hard to believe. If something surprises you or contradicts other facts you have encountered, make a note of that. Let your own skepticism guide your research, and allow it to inform your own research paper.