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Choosing, Using, and Citing Sources

Research, information seeking, and citing sources explained in plain English

How do I find what I need? [Searching]

image shows magnifying glass examining a computer screenThe kind of source determines how you find what you need within it. Searching through electronic sources requires you to put your question or information need into a few clear search terms in order to find what you need. Your search brings up a list of results, which may or may not be helpful to you. You will then need to look through the list and consider the results. You may need to change your search terms or try a different source if you don't find what you need.

Some questions are easily answered with a single source and some problems require many different sources to understand the issue or determine a solution. Sometimes one source leads to another. Often finding what you need requires a combination of searching, reading, and thinking.

How do I know when I've found what I need? [Reading/Critical Thinking]

person shown in image jumping with excitement in response to finding informationChoosing sources requires thoughtful consideration and, often, reading. There's really no magic button or easy answers. When you are looking for information, the keys to a successful outcome are critical thinking and persistence. Don't give up!

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you read:

  • Does this information meet my need?
  • Has this information confirmed my understanding or has it surprised me? 
  • Has it raised any new questions or revealed the need for additional information?
  • Do I need to think about my question or problem differently because of what I've learned?
  • Has this source answered my question or met my information need?

How do I keep track of what I've learned? [Notetaking]

images shows pencil writing on paperSometimes information you find will be easily remembered or your question will be answered very simply. But sometimes it takes more than one search or one source to find you need or to explain what you must explain. As you read and learn from the sources you find, you may need to take notes about what you've learned so that you can remember it and use it later.

When taking notes about your sources, be sure to keep track of:

  • Important information from each source
  • Important information about each source

You want to be able to accurately describe information found in the source, as well as describe where that information came from. This is helpful because you may need to retrace your steps in the future or provide a record of your sources so that others know where to find out more for themselves. 

What should I do with information once I've found it? [Writing, etc.]

Your need will determine what should happen with the information after you've found it. Perhaps you found the address and phone number for a doctor and now you need to call to make an appointment for your child. Maybe your searching retrieved information about why World War I began and now you need to write a paper for your class. It might be that you just wanted to learn more about current events happening in the United States and now you want to tell a friend about all you've discovered. 

For academic assignments, there are usually clear guidelines about what you will need to do with the information you've found. You may need to follow a defined writing process from your instructor or produce a presentation to share the information with your classmates. Whatever the product, you will likely need to share your source information or citations


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