So you’ve chosen a database, used effective search strategies, and the sources are scrolling in front of you, now what? How do you choose? Here are some questions to think about when choosing your sources.
It's easy to choose the first sources you see with your keywords or topic in the title, but just because they mention your topic doesn't make them good for your paper. It will save you time in the long run to read through the sources, evaluate whether they are relevant and fit your assignment parameters, and determine how you will use them before making the final cut.
As you write your paper, you may find you need more or different sources than you initially chose. That's a normal part of the research process, so don't get discouraged.
Don’t just take anything that mentions the literary work or author you’re analyzing. If the source is a criticism of PBS’s television rendition of the Yellow Wallpaper, and you’re analyzing the literary text, it’s not relevant. A source is relevant when it is connected to the points you are making, whether you agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions. The results at the top of the list aren’t necessarily the best.
Use the titles and abstracts of the articles to decide whether they are relevant before reading the article in full. Abstracts give summaries of what the article is about. Just don't copy and paste them in your paper or use only the abstract without reading the whole article. Doing so is a dead giveaway for plagiarism.
Keep in mind that the sources you read to become familiar with the background and scholarly conversation on your topic may be different than those you choose for the assignment itself.
Here's where you want to apply the knowledge you gained in step 1 to the assignment itself to determine if you should include the source. If your instructors only wants you to use literary criticism in your assignment, then a work or topic overview shouldn’t make the final cut even if it has the perfect quote. Keep in mind that just because you can’t use a source in an assignment doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. Even if you can’t include an overview in your paper, it can still provide background knowledge, ideas for further research, and additional sources you can use in the works cited section. Just make sure to flag the source in your notes so you know not to cite it in your assignment.
Databases label source types differently from one another and from the definitions in this module or from your instructor. Ultimately, you will need to use your evaluation skills to determine the source type rather than relying only on the database. However, the database can give you a place to start in determining what type of source you’re looking at.
Where does this source fit into your paper or argument? You may not know until you’ve read more about the source’s interpretation or done your own analysis, which means you’ve reached the point where you need to read your sources carefully and thoroughly to understand the more specific scholarly conversation and determine how you will use the source.
Common uses for sources include:
Background: Information on the author’s life or motives, sources used to show the history of the work’s interpretation, or sources used to establish definitions.
Example: Using a biography of Charlotte Perkins Gilman to talk about her own experience with the rest cure.
Exhibit: A primary source that you’re analyzing. This can be the work you're writing about or another work of literature you're comparing it to.
Example: Analyzing a line from the Yellow Wallpaper to back up your interpretation.
Argument: These are the interpretations or arguments of scholars you will engage in your assignment. You can use them to support your own argument or refute with your own evidence.
Example: Using the argument from a literary criticism that Jane wasn’t any freer at the end of story to support your own argument.
Method: A source that talks about or demonstrates the critical lens you are using to analyze the story.
Example: Applying the critical lens of psychoanalysis from a literary criticism to form your own interpretation.
The same source can serve more than one use depending on how you apply it in your assignment. For example, the literary criticism used as an argument source concluding Jane wasn’t any freer at the end of story could also be used for as a method source by following the same method of psychoanalysis as the author.
If an annotated bibliography is part of your assignment, include how you will use the source as background, exhibit, argument, or method in your annotation. Your professor will love it!