Eng102:Exercise: Pro and Cons of types of research sources



Summary:  What are the sources available for a research paper?  Students will hit the obvious ones: books, magazines, websites etc – but A)What are some of the lesser known but sometimes more valuable sources available, and B)What are the pros and cons of each type of source? 




I. YOU HAVE 1 BOOK MINIMUM TO USE FOR YOUR FIRST PAPER.  .  That leaves 2 more sources required.

II. YOU HAVE 2 BOOKS MINIMUM TO USE FOR YOUR BIG PAPER.  That leaves 6 more sources required.



Which sources should you consider?  (Those with a * next to them are highly recommended).


Sources list with pro and con (as attachment)



A. Encyclopedia:  Best for summaries; For general overview; topics that are not current events

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  your topic is still too general and you want to know subtopics, narrow topic down,  or want to know important/debated issues in the subject

2)Good for finding this type of information: general info only, 1st look/summary of a topic you don’t know, place to find important terms in topic for further research

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  not good for recent events or very “hot” timely topics; normally not good for quotes or detailed examples, since  usually provides summary/summarized information

4)Problems in using this source:  Quoting from an encyclopedia is an easy way to wind up with weak content. 

5) Source Reliability: generally more objective

B. Book: Best if you are interested in the topic; for in depth understanding of topic as a whole

1)Type of topic this source is best for: you have genuine interest in your subject, want to learn more about it, have the time to read

2)Good for finding this type of information:  quotes, examples, theories, ideas, opinions, concepts, broader understanding, understanding of specific subtopics

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  use as a source when you have to hand in paper in two hours; also check publishing date to make sure its recent!  Check publisher name to make sure its not Vanity Press (author pays to publish himself) or biased publisher (eg, Revolutionary Army Press)

4)Problems in using this source:  Books take time to read, even using tricks such as index, TOC, and reviews to narrow down to chapters of use; You may not be able to find the book in the shelves;  May be very technical: requiring  in some cases prior knowledge of the topic (this can be a good or bad thing); 

5) Source Reliability:   Can range from objective, to covering many points of view, to bias.  To test:  look up author on Amazon.com or in yahoo.com and see if he’s considered an authority, a specialist, one sided, or a nutcase,

C. Magazine: Good for specialist subtopics; for detailed examples in plain English you can read at one sitting, some statistics

1)Type of topic this source is best for: your topic is timely, is a current event or recent issue.  Good if you need current application or examples.

2)Good for finding this type of information:  local interest topics, quotes, examples, opinions, general issues and points of view.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  use as main source, since article may be biased or too localized or targeted mainly to a particular type of readership

4)Problems in using this source:  Many magazines have agendas – the agenda of their audience.  For example: A republican magazine will leave out some facts or points of view or insult away opposition; an Environmental Group magazine may focus on “mother earth” to the exclusion of all other concerns for the average working person.  If using magazines as a source, make sure to also address the opposition argument.

5) Source Reliability:  Varies, from sensationalist (Soldier of Fortune) to too basic (Reader’s Digest) to biased to overly specialized.

D. Journal: Good for in-depth look at a specialist subtopic; makes for technical language, statistics & specific strong examples, both pro and con

1)Type of topic this source is best for: You need a magazine style periodical for a specialized audience or a very specific/specialized topic

2)Good for finding this type of information:  High quality very specific examples, technical language, authoritative opinions, hot topics/new discoveries or ideas

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  summary knowledge or browsing.  

4)Problems in using this source:  Hard reading for anyone not a member of the field; may require re-reading to fully understand.  May require some searching to find issues.

5) Source Reliability: normally addresses opposing points of view, but sometimes with smoke & mirrors.  Good biblio. & use of citations.

E. Newspaper:  Good for local interest topics; easy to read (may be too general); accuracy variable

1)Type of topic this source is best for: you are looking for a topic limited to a certain location; localized viewpoint; good if you want to understand the personality of a certain location/population on a topic

2)Good for finding this type of information:  extremely current events, medium detailed examples, who-what-where-etc examples, second-hand quotes, situational context (what was happening in the world at the time of the topic becoming important enough to cover)

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  detailed discussion or different points of view; 

4)Problems in using this source:  Lots of articles to go through before necessarily reaching gold.

5) Source Reliability:   Supposedly unbiased, but does reflect audience/editor’s point of view often.  Sometimes stories published before all the facts are in.  Can be very sensationalist (National Enquirer)

F. *Website (stand alone only):  Almost Everything can be found – but some times a humongous amount of time is required to find gems in the World Wide Web as diary and dumpster.  Good for reference, insider insights, but sometimes too one sided (For example a website that gives 1000 reasons Steven Seagal is a submoron). 

1)Type of topic this source is best for:   Your topic is obscure; you need super-obsessive detail level; you want information that exists nowhere else/insider info

2)Good for finding this type of information:  Just about any topic or type of information, recent or archival, with one caveat:  huge amounts of information could be lies or wrong.  Websites are a great source which you then must go out and verify immediately for veracity.  Make sure to find and look at websites with an OPPOSITE point of view – check who made it/owns it.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  topics or examples where your data must be verifiable and screened.

4)Problems in using this source:  Finding the website with good information among the thousands that will be flagged by the search engine

5) Source Reliability:   Anyone with time on their hands can set up a professional looking website.  Will require severe checking and crosschecking of information reliability.  Often one point of view only – although discussion rooms can provide a good idea of different points of view and a range of related topics, opinions, and people

G. *Newsgroup (http://groups.google.com): Absolutely everything ever discussed publicly online: Good for snippets, opinions, and “happened to me” type of examples/evidence.  Excellent for filling holes/missing examples in your rough draft stage.  Depending on your ability to narrow search terms, can be like finding a quarter in the ocean or the best/fastest source site in existence

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  you need to find the world’s most obscure, personal, secret detail; want to find people to interview who’ve lived a topic/experience; need information fast.

2)Good for finding this type of information:  details, discussions, opinions, quotes, eyewitness accounts, finding people to interview, finding further terms, finding recommended other sources, etc.  There does not exist a question that has not been answered/debated on newsgroups a few times over.

3)3)Bad for finding this type of information:  validated facts; information in one place; finding authorities quickly -- beyond those who are self proclaimed

4)Problems in using this source:  Not for amateur web searching:  you must be an expert at screening information for noise content otherwise you will never be seen from again.  Opinion is more common than fact:  newsgroups are the internet’s townsquare/bar/watercooler.

5) Source Reliability:   Case by case

H. Interview:  Once arranged, can be a great fast source for real life, functioning examples/details

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  you want first hand, eyewitness information and details you could never know without being at an event/time/happening.

2)Good for finding this type of information:  Extremely vivid examples, quotes, insights, opinions of participants, everyman point of view

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  Information needed right away – interviews may take setup and time in hearing back from an intended source.  Also, you have to drive the conversation so you can’t go into an interview without some basic knowledge from which to draw out questions.

4)Problems in using this source:  If you are not a good interviewer, you’ll have trouble.  You may not get the information you are hoping to get.  Interviewee may have their own agenda/bias/or incorrect memory of events and details.  Compare interviews to determine truth.

5) Source Reliability:   You get one person’s point of view, with insights, errors, limits, shifting memories, agendas and bias.

I. Database indexing periodicals:  Tells you by subject what periodicals you should read – but now you have to find those magazines/newspapers/journals

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  You have access to a library that actually has the magazines that the database index is going to tell you to look for

2)Good for finding this type of information:  Making a research list across many magazines and journals with all types of points of views.  You will find a large field of information with many gems and facts – if you have the time to look and compare.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  quick searches.  Small papers.

4)Problems in using this source:  You’ll find hundred of relevant magazines and journals – some requiring you to fly out to obscure locations where the periodical is archived.  

5) Source Reliability:   it’s an index:  you’ll have to compare among the periodicals for bias.



J.*Database of full text articles: http://pc.maricopa.edu/library/databases/databases.html

FULL text to magazines searchable by index – Perfect for local, hot, and current interest topics.  You’ll have to spend an hour or two practicing how to use the search capability – but well worth the investment.

1)Type of topic this source is best for: you want the timeliness of magazine articles – across most times and places.  It’s all there without having to leave a chair. 

2)Good for finding this type of information: details, quotes, points of view, layman to expert explanations, obscure and specialist info.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  people who are lazy and just pick the first four things found.  If you don’t have the time to read and data mine, the database will either be overwhelming or you’ll pick articles haphazardly or that only support your thesis’ point of view – leaving gaps.

4)Problems in using this source:  Not as comprehensive as a database indexing periodicals – which can lead to missed sources/opposing opinions etc.

5) Source Reliability:   depends on the periodical, but typically, since database of full text are expensive, utilize established periodicals.

K. Film/video/movies/Documentaries:  Good for 2 hr overviews of a topic, good for a particular audience’s understanding of a group or topic, good if you learn better/become inspired by seeing a example given life.  Don’t forget you can also search screenplays for quotes that define the topic.

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  a realistic overview given life can be a better summary:  Think how quickly and specifically you can learn and relate to the range of horrors of being in a concentration camp from Schindler’s  List rather than from a book when you just need an overview understanding.

2)Good for finding this type of information: more valuable for the impression it creates than the subjective facts represented/underlying the plot.  If you have trouble understanding a topic or an issue, a film/movie may present it in a visceral way that may inspire understanding or a passion to learn further.  Good for some quotable examples – second hand thru the eyes of the filmmaker.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  use as a primary source of subtopics, since some important ones may be left out by the demand of time. 

4)Problems in using this source:  you have a director’s point of view.  In many movies, entertainment comes first before documentation: check your facts.

5) Source Reliability:   variable, but typically not a “word as truth” source


L. Government documents:  Good for official versions, laws, statistics, and price tags.  Dry reading, but may have the quality of detail that make paper content GOLDEN.

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  You need statistics, need to know costs, need data from experiments and/or studies.

2)Good for finding this type of information: topics that have a government involvement – regardless if the government’s rule is as regulator (FDA), sponsor (National Endowment of the Arts), or interference (the new CyberSecurity bills).  Also good for giving a look at what a particular administration was concerned with (who and why was the meese commission ordered?), what issues were considered of national, civic, or “American” importance during a particular time period (eg Red Hunting during McCarthyism)

 3)Bad for finding this type of information: exciting reading or different points of view.

4)Problems in using this source: Language may sometimes be legalese; sometimes the most important fact gained from a government document is WHAT IS NOT STUDIED/COVERED/AVAILABLE [think: why is a subject omitted?].  Also, studies and published documents are done for a purpose, whether pay back, appeasing the nation, creating a sense of importance – Don’t believe the hype, always remember that first and foremost is THE HYPE and THE SPIN.

5) Source Reliability:   official versions – supposedly the truth.

M. Performance/events/sports’ games:  You become the interpreter of events – excellent detail limited only by what you see.  But make sure to find opposing opinions – what and how you saw may not be the only way the event “went down”

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  you want the excitement of story telling in your paper – and you know how to tell the tale well

2)Good for finding this type of information:  Powerful intros, attention-grabbing sections of a paper

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  extended parts of your paper – there may be a tendency to overquote and underanalyse, reducing a paper from research to one-sided though excited journalism.

4)Problems in using this source: What did your eyes not see?  What was happening behind the scenes?  Can you stay objective if what you’re seeing involves an emotional issue (money for AIDS) or a favorite cause (defeat of your favorite team, performance of your favorite musical piece by terrible musicians)?

5) Source Reliability:   You are the chronicler of the tale – be ready to defend rigorously against people who saw it differently, even perhaps as opposite of what you witnessed.


N. BOOKS OF QUOTATIONS:  If you have no idea how to start a paper, a good way to find something interesting about a topic.  Good for comparisons of opinions from different people/ groups/times

1)Type of topic this source is best for:  You need a very brief witty or summary entry into your topic or subtopic.  Can sometimes reveal weaknesses or problems with an individual or topic that would otherwise go unnoticed.

2)Good for finding this type of information:  Starting papers; For introductions and conclusions;  for  a minor detail or example to round off a paragraph.

3)Bad for finding this type of information:  Primary examples for or against a topic – it’s a fallacy to assume a celebrity in  a field is actually validating a subject by giving his opinion, no matter how smart or clever the saying may be.

 4)Problems in using this source: Make sure the source is appropriate to the quote:  quoting rapper DMX about World peace will sound very very dumb.

5) Source Reliability:   None:  quotations of this sort are usually just opinions – even if insightful ones.


O. PRODUCT/MANUFACTURER HOMEPAGE:  lots of junk and marketing to go thru.  Consider visiting opinion (eg www.epinions.com) or review sites first (www.consumerreports.com).  Don’t forget the single most powerful source of images of products, with descriptions and pricing: www.ebay.com

P. Lyrics:  Good for direct example of a [usually youth] culture’s concerns, fears,& needs. 1)Examining, for example, the lyrics of political songs in the 60’s will help understand how the left engaged issues of debate and concern; Examining lyrics of 90’s original gangster rap will show how the crimey attitude would become as marketable as the gangster movies of depression era America. 

2)Music is the passion and escapism of a particular audience – examine to feel the pulse of a group, examine to learn the Hearts of Darkness and psychic needs of (sometimes) a trend, a taste, a subculture or a generation.  You’ll have to think like an anthropologist, but you might dig into a depth of understanding few have touched before.

Q. Museums Online:  Many people don’t realize how much can be learned by looking at the right picture, image, sculpture, or artwork.  Check into online museums that exist for almost any subject you can seek (From the Museum of Dung in Korea to the Liberace Museum in Vegas).  Check into online museums that may have special and specialist exhibits --- rare information, new found information, and refined and tried opinions can be a click away.  You’ll also sometimes find new student guides and expert material guides and bibliographies – links and sources for more information.  Not to mention the email addresses and names of supposed experts in a particular field.