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Sources: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Ever scrolled through headlines and noticed sensationalism? Do you have a few news sources that you trust more than others? Do you read Wikipedia articles when you want to find out the basics of something (like most of us)?

As you know from your experience consuming media in everyday life, not all sources of information are equal. Generally, the more rigorous the editing process a publication goes through, the more reliable it is likely to be:

  • The average Facebook post or tweet, for example, is written by just one person; for most academic purposes, such sources of information would therefore be lowest on the reliability scale.
  • Likewise, while Wikipedia is great for finding basic knowledge, in most cases, the information has not been peer-reviewed or edited by experts, so its accuracy has not been verified. (Tip on Wikipedia, though: more and more of the entries contain footnotes, which can be great to find further information in more reliable sources!)
  • By contrast, a book published by an academic press is screened by many specialists in the field and is likely to be much more reliable.

Here's a more extensive list of some standard sources, in order of least to most likely to be reliable: 

  • Tweets / Facebook post (least reliable: written by one person or a bot and immediately publishable)
  • Blog entry (usually longer than a social media post; you can generally find out more about the writer's credentials)
  • Info from a dot com website (remember, dot coms are inherently selling something)
  • Newspaper article (online or print; remember, newspapers are also trying to sell themselves)
  • Magazine article (similar to newspaper articles, though magazines tend to publish less frequently, giving more time for editing)
  • Info from a dot org site (usually not trying to sell anything, but still, check source credentials)
  • Info from a dot edu site or dot gov site (usually more reliable than a dot com site)
  • Journal article (peer-reviewed journal articles are vetted by experts in the field)
  • Book published by an academic press (goes through an extensive editorial process)

There are many characteristics to consider when evaluating the quality of a source; to review key concepts, please revisit the Foundations of Academic Writing presentation, "How to Look and Be Smart."

Finally, pro tip: sometimes, people hesitate to use Google Scholar (or regular Google) because they think the sources won't be academic enough. That's just silly; just use discernment.
 

Evaluating Sources Links

 

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All-Topics Index


The following index makes searching for a specific topic easier and links to the appropriate place in the sequenced material. We think we have most of them, but please email us at writingcenter@nps.edu if we are missing something!

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A

abbreviations

abstracts

academic writing

acronyms

active voice

apostrophes

argument

article usage

assignments, understanding them

audience

 

B

body paragraphs

brainstorming

building better sentences tips

 

C

capitalization

citations

citation styles

clarity

clustering

coaching sessions, about

colons

comma splices

commas, FANBOYS

commas, introductory

commas, list

commas, nonessential elements

commas, Oxford

commonly confused words 

compare-and-contrast papers 

concision

conclusions

conjunctive adverbs

coordinating conjunctions

copyright and fair use

critical thinking  

 

D

dangling modifiers

dashes

dependent marker words

double submission of coursework

drafting

 

E

edit your own work

editing – outside editors

exclamation points

executive summary

 

F

FANBOYS

FAQs

footnotes

free-writing

 

G

gerunds

grammar

group writing

 

H

hyphens

 

I

ibid.

introductions

 

J

Joining the Academic Conversation

 

L

LaTeX

library liaisons 

literature reviews 

logic and analysis 

 

M

memos

methodologies

 

N

note-taking

numbers

 

O

organization

outlining

Oxford comma

 

P

paragraph development 

parallelism

paraphrasing

parts of speech

passive voice

periods

persuasion

phrases and clauses

plagiarism, how to avoid through citations

plain language

polishing

prepositional phrases 

prepositions

pronouns

publication

punctuation

purpose of research

 

Q

questions

quotation marks 

quoting

 

R

reading with intent

redundancies                                                                

reference software

reflection papers 

research

research questions

reverse outlining 

revising passive voice into active voice

revision

roadmaps                                            

run-on sentences 

 

S

self-citing

semi-colons

subjects, grammatical

significance

so-what?

spelling

standard essay structure

STEM/technical writing 

style

subject/verb agreement

 

T

technical writing

that vs. which

thesis writing

thesis advisors

thesis process overview

thesis process tips

thesis proposals – common elements                                                     

thesis statements

tone, professional

topic sentences 

transitions

types of papers

 

U

United States or U.S.?

 

V

verbs and verb tense

 

W

which vs. that

Why write?

writer’s block 

writing process