Writing a compelling research paper requires a thorough understanding of the subject and the utilization of credible sources to back your arguments. Reliable sources enhance the quality of your research, ensuring the information you present is accurate, up-to-date, and has been subjected to thorough review or research. 

This article will guide you through identifying and utilizing credible sources, ensuring your research paper is informed and dependable. 

Types of Sources Used in Research Papers

Understanding the types of sources is crucial for any research project, as this determines the nature of the information being presented. Your paper’s credibility, detail, and relevance depend heavily on the sources you choose. There are three main categories of sources used in research papers: primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary Resources

Primary resources are original, uninterpreted information direct from the source or origin. They are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic from people who had a direct connection with it. In the sciences, primary sources are often synonymous with original research articles where researchers describe their methodology, data, and conclusions in detail.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Historical Documents: Letters, diaries, administrative records, and more from the time period being studied.
  • Literary Texts: Poems, novels, or plays written by the original authors.
  • Artifacts: Art pieces, buildings, or clothing.
  • Research Results: Published results of research studies available in journals, dissertations, and theses.
  • Statistical Data: Raw data collected for research purposes.
  • Legal Documents: Official publications such as laws, court decisions, treaties, and constitutions.
  • Interviews, Surveys, and Fieldnotes: Direct or reported speech from individuals, original responses from surveys, and recordings of observations from field research.

Secondary Resources

Secondary sources analyze, interpret, evaluate, or summarize information in primary resources. They provide a step back from the original work and often offer broader perspectives. Secondary sources are not evidence but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Books: Non-fiction books that interpret or analyze historical events, literary works, scientific research, etc.
  • Journal Review Articles: Articles that summarize the current understanding of a topic, including significant findings and advances.
  • Critiques: Critical evaluations of original works, such as art critiques, literary criticism, or scientific peer reviews.
  • Biographies: These can be considered secondary sources when written by someone other than the person being studied, based on the biographer’s interpretation of primary and/or secondary sources.
  • Documentaries: Although they present original footage, documentaries are secondary sources because they interpret primary source material for the audience.

Tertiary Resources

Tertiary sources synthesize or summarize information from primary and secondary sources. They provide overviews of research topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources are excellent starting points for research projects because they often extract the essential aspects of research and are more accessible to readers.

Examples of tertiary sources include:

  • Encyclopedias: Entries in encyclopedias offer concise overviews of a topic, summarizing information from primary and secondary sources.
  • Textbooks: These provide organized collections of knowledge on specific subjects compiled from primary and secondary research.
  • Handbooks and Manuals: Guides that provide summaries or instructions, often for technical fields.
  • Bibliographies: Lists of sources on a specific topic, including primary and/or secondary sources.
  • Databases and Indexes: These tools help locate primary and secondary sources, providing brief descriptions or summaries of their contents.

How to Start a Search for Sources

Knowing where to start searching is crucial for building a solid foundation for your research paper. Below are detailed steps and strategies to kickstart your search for reliable sources.

Understand Your Research Question

Before you search for sources, it’s essential to have a clear grasp of your research question or thesis. Understanding the scope and specific aspects of your topic that you wish to explore will guide your research and ensure that you’re gathering relevant and useful information.

Start with a Preliminary Research

Begin with a general search on your topic using search engines like Google to familiarize yourself with the subject. This search can lead you to basic information and introduce you to key terms, concepts, and debates in the field. While many sources you find this way may not be credible enough for scholarly research, they can inform your understanding and direct your next steps.

Utilize Libraries

Your school or local library is a valuable resource in the research process. Libraries offer access to various reliable sources, including books, academic journals, and specialized databases that you won’t find freely available online. Librarians can also provide research support and help you navigate these resources.

Dive into Academic Databases

Platforms like Google Scholar, JSTOR, and PubMed (for medical research) are excellent starting points for finding scholarly articles, journals, and papers. These databases index content from reliable sources and often include filters to help narrow down results to peer-reviewed or scholarly publications.

Explore Government and Educational Sites

Websites in .gov, .edu, or .org typically offer authoritative information. Government sites provide access to reports, statistics, and other publications, while educational sites from reputable institutions can provide resources ranging from academic research projects to lecture materials.

Identify Key Authors and Studies in Your Field

As you read, take note of frequently cited authors, studies, and papers in your topic area. Searching for other works by these key authors or directly for these landmark studies can often lead you to high-quality information and other relevant sources through their bibliographies.

Use Citation Chains

Once you have a good article or book that fits your research topic, check its references or bibliography. This is a “citation chain” — the papers it cites are likely also relevant to your topic. Conversely, you can use tools like Google Scholar’s “Cited by” feature to see newer papers that have cited a particular source, ensuring you’re not missing out on more recent developments.

Verify the Credibility

Employ the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose). This test helps ensure that the sources you’re considering are relevant but also credible and reliable. It’s essential to critically evaluate your sources to avoid incorporating misleading or inaccurate information into your paper.

Organize Your Sources

As you find potential sources, organize them in a way that makes sense for your project. You might use digital tools like citation management software or keep a detailed research log. Include all citation information and notes on how the source is relevant to your project.

Be Open to Adjusting Your Approach

Sometimes, initial research can take unexpected turns. Be prepared to refine or expand your topic based on the research findings and available sources. Flexibility can lead to a robust research project.

The Credibility of a Source (CRAAP test)

When writing a research paper, the credibility of your present information is paramount. To ascertain the credibility of a source, researchers often employ the CRAAP Test, a series of checks developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.

The acronym CRAAP stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Here’s how to apply each component of the CRAAP test:


  • Time Factor: Consider the publication date of the source. When was the information published or last updated? Research subjects evolve rapidly, particularly in fields like science, technology, and current affairs. Older sources may contain outdated, inaccurate, or no longer relevant information.
  • Recent Revision: Has the work been updated or revised in a new edition? An updated version often indicates the information is continually reviewed for accuracy and relevance.
  • Timeline Relevance: In some cases, the age of the source might apply to the research (such as historical documents). Ensure the timeframe aligns with your research topic requirements.


  • Target Audience: Consider who the intended audience is. Is the information appropriate (i.e., not too elementary or advanced) for your needs? A source for specialists might be too technical, while one for a general audience might lack the depth you require.
  • Relation to Your Work: Does the information directly relate to your topic or support your arguments or claims? It should address your research question and be pertinent to your research thesis.
  • Source Quality: Examine the quality of the content. Even if it’s relevant, poor explanations, questionable assertions, or lacking depth can render a source less useful.


  • Author/Creator: Investigate the author’s credentials or the organization’s qualifications. What makes them qualified to write about this topic? Look for information about the author’s education, affiliations, publications, and experience.
  • Publisher’s Reputation: The publisher’s reputation can also indicate a source’s credibility. Reputable publishers have rigorous vetting and review processes.
  • Contact Information: Credible sources often provide contact information, like a publisher or email address, which shows they’re open to dialogue and questions, thereby adding to their credibility.


  • Source Reliability: Cross-check the information provided in the source with other credible sources. The data should be consistent across various publications.
  • Evidence-Based: The work should be supported by evidence, whether in data, citations, or logical reasoning. It shouldn’t be based solely on opinion.
  • Editing and Review: Consider whether the source has been through a peer-review process or the editing quality is high (i.e., free of typos, errors, etc.). Professional presentation often correlates with accurate, reliable information.


  • Objective Reasoning: Identify the purpose of the information. Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? The motive for its production may impact its credibility.
  • Unbiased Nature: Check for political, ideological, cultural, religious, or personal biases. The source should present a balanced view, not a one-sided argument.
  • Fact vs. Opinion: Distinguish between facts and opinions. While both can be valuable, they should be differentiated, and factual information should be prioritized in research contexts.

Beyond the CRAAP test, consider these additional strategies:

Check the Author’s Background: Research the author to understand their position, education, and publication history. An author with expertise and a history of publication in the field is likely more trustworthy.

Look for Moderate to Long Articles: Extremely short articles may lack depth, while longer ones indicate a comprehensive treatment. However, length alone doesn’t guarantee credibility, so it must be considered alongside other factors.

Look for Unbiased Analysis of the Topic: Sources should present information fairly and comprehensively, not selectively omitting information that doesn’t support their view.

Check for Citations Used in the Article: Reliable sources reference their information, allowing readers to verify the presented data. A lack of citations may indicate that the information is unsubstantiated.

Free Resources for Learning

In the digital age, access to information has become more straightforward and more accessible than ever before. A wide range of resources is available for free, providing valuable information that can be especially useful when conducting research or pursuing self-directed learning.

Here are some of the most effective and reliable free learning resources available online:

Online Course Platforms

  • Coursera: While some courses on Coursera require payment, many are available for free. These courses, provided by universities and organizations, cover various subjects, from computer science to literature.
  • edX: Similar to Coursera, edX offers courses from universities and institutions worldwide, covering various disciplines. Many courses are free if you don’t need a certificate of completion.
  • Khan Academy: A completely free platform, Khan Academy provides courses and tutorials on various subjects for different educational levels, making it an excellent resource for students and adult learners alike.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers virtually all of its course content for free online, covering a broad spectrum of subjects.

Academic Databases and Libraries

  • Google Scholar: This free academic search engine provides access to many scholarly articles and papers. While not all content is freely accessible, many articles are, and it’s an excellent starting point for any research.
  • PubMed: Ideal for medical research students, PubMed offers free access to articles and research papers in medicine and life sciences.
  • Internet Archive: A non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more. It’s particularly useful for finding historical and archival material.
  • Project Gutenberg: With over 60,000 free eBooks, Project Gutenberg is an invaluable resource for students of literature, history, and other disciplines requiring extensive reading.

Video Learning Platforms

  • YouTube: Beyond entertainment, YouTube hosts channels from institutions like NASA, TED, and many universities, offering free lectures, educational videos, and tutorials on countless subjects.
  • TED Talks: TED offers free video lectures by experts in various fields, covering many topics in short, easily digestible presentations.

Professional Development Platforms

  • LinkedIn Learning: While primarily a paid service, LinkedIn Learning offers a month’s free trial that provides access to countless courses focused on business, technology, and creative skills.
  • Codecademy: Ideal for individuals interested in learning to code, Codecademy offers free courses on different programming languages.

Language Learning Tools

  • Duolingo: This platform offers free, bite-sized lessons for those interested in learning a new language. The lessons are game-like and interactive, which keeps learning fun and engaging.
  • BBC Languages: The BBC offers resources, courses, and video clips to help you learn new languages.

Government and Educational Sites

  • National Institutes of Health: Offers research and information on health-related topics.
  • U.S. Department of Education: Provides resources for research in education, statistics, reports, and more.
  • Smithsonian Learning Lab: Offers free access to millions of digital resources from the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, and more, allowing users to create personal collections and educational experiences.

Sites for Scholarly Research

Conducting scholarly research requires diving into resources offering high-quality, credible, and in-depth information. Unlike a casual internet search, scholarly research necessitates authoritative, peer-reviewed, and validated sources.

Here are some key sites that scholars, students, and academicians use for credible research:

Google Scholar (scholar.google.com): Google Scholar provides a simple way to search for scholarly literature broadly. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, different abstracts, and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites. It’s particularly useful for its citation data and finding “grey literature” like conference papers.

JSTOR (www.jstor.org): JSTOR is a digital library for scholars, researchers, and students. It provides access to thousands of academic journals, books, and primary sources within various disciplines. Access to JSTOR is often provided through university libraries, but the platform also offers free access to several monthly articles for independent researchers.

PubMed (www.pubmed.gov): PubMed comprises more than 30 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher websites. It’s invaluable for medical research, including fields like biomedicine, health sciences, life sciences, behavioral sciences, chemical sciences, and bioengineering.

Microsoft Academic (academic.microsoft.com): Microsoft Academic is a free academic search engine developed by Microsoft Research. It represents a breakthrough in discovering scholarly publications and represents them in a new, intuitive way. It’s useful for its AI-powered search capabilities, which help to discover academic papers based on more nuanced concepts and relationships between research topics.

ScienceDirect (www.sciencedirect.com): ScienceDirect is a leading full-text scientific database offering journal articles and book chapters from over 3,800 peer-reviewed journals and over 35,000 book titles. Subjects covered include physical sciences and engineering, life sciences, health sciences, and social sciences and humanities.

SAGE Journals (journals.sagepub.com): SAGE Journals hosts over 1,000 journals representing various subject areas. SAGE Journals is a comprehensive platform for quality research articles, from humanities to social sciences, science and technology to medicine.

Wiley Online Library (onlinelibrary.wiley.com): Wiley Online Library hosts the world’s broadest and deepest multidisciplinary collection of online resources covering life, health, physical sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. It delivers integrated access to over 6 million articles from over 1,600 journals.

SpringerLink (link.springer.com): SpringerLink provides researchers access to millions of scientific documents from journals, books, series, protocols, reference works, and proceedings. It covers a variety of disciplines, including science, technology, medicine, humanities, and law.

Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) (doaj.org): DOAJ is a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to high-quality, open-access, peer-reviewed journals. It covers all subjects and many languages, making it a crucial resource for finding open-access scholarly articles and journals.

CORE (core.ac.uk): CORE aggregates open-access research outputs from repositories and journals worldwide, helping to facilitate free and unrestricted access to research. It allows users to search over 200 million pages from over 10,000 open-access repositories and journals.

Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) (eric.ed.gov): ERIC is an online digital library of education research and information. It provides ready access to education literature to support educational research and information to improve practice in learning, teaching, educational decision-making, and research.

Social Science Research Network (SSRN) (ssrn.com): SSRN is an open-access repository devoted to rapidly disseminating social science research. It comprises specialized research networks in each social sciences, and users can view abstracts and download full papers.

Sources to Avoid When Conducting Research

While it’s critical to find and utilize credible sources for your research, it’s equally important to recognize and avoid sources that may diminish the credibility of your work. Here are some sources you should be cautious of or avoid entirely:

Social Media & Related Sites: Information on social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) is often subjective and unverified. While social media can be useful for observing public opinion or finding firsthand accounts of events, it’s rife with misinformation and bias. These platforms lack the rigorous verification processes necessary for academic research, and the content posted here is rarely subject to fact-checking or peer review.

Wikipedia: While Wikipedia is a valuable tool for an initial overview of a topic, it’s not advisable to use it as a primary or secondary source in academic research. The site is crowd-sourced, and its content can be edited by anyone, which means the reliability of its information can vary. Using the citations found at the bottom of a Wikipedia page as a starting point to locate primary and secondary sources is more beneficial.

General Blogs: Personal blogs or blogs that aren’t affiliated with a reputable institution or organization often reflect the writer’s opinions, beliefs, and experiences. They aren’t typically subject to fact-checking, peer review, or editorial standards and, as such, shouldn’t be relied upon for academic research. However, there are exceptions for expert blogs run by known authorities in their field, but these still shouldn’t be your primary source.

Magazines: While some magazines are known for their investigative journalism, many prioritize entertainment and opinion over fact. Articles in magazines are usually not subject to the same level of critique and review as scholarly sources, and they often lack the depth and detail required for academic work. It’s better to rely on peer-reviewed journals and publications recognized in the academic community.

Outdated Sources: Information changes over time. Using outdated sources can lead to the propagation of no longer accurate, relevant, or current information. While historical documents are essential for certain types of research, scientific, technical, or medical subjects require the most up-to-date information, as advancements in these fields occur rapidly.

Non-academic Forums and Discussion Groups: Information from forums, Q&A websites (like Quora), or discussion groups is typically anecdotal and subjective. While these can be starting points for understanding a topic, they lack the factual rigor and reliability for academic research.

Tips for Finding Research Paper Sources

knowing how to identify and locate reliable sources can make the research process more manageable and rewarding. Below are tips that can guide you in finding credible sources for your research paper:

Begin with Reliable Sources: Start your research with information from courses, textbooks, and recommended readings from your teacher or professor. These materials have already been evaluated for credibility and relevance, providing a solid foundation for your research.

Use Your Local Library: Librarians are invaluable resources who can guide you to credible published materials such as books, encyclopedias, and scholarly journals that you might not have access to online. 

Find Secondary Sources and Start from There: Secondary sources, like review articles, bibliographies, or books, synthesize and analyze information from primary sources. These can provide a comprehensive overview of your research topic, and their references can lead to valuable primary sources.

Use Various Sourcing Types: Diversify your sources. Utilize a mix of materials from books, scholarly articles, reputable websites, and any other sources that can provide relevant information.

Add One Source per Page: Include one citation per page of your research paper. This ensures that your arguments are supported by sufficient evidence without being overwhelmed by too many citations. It also encourages you to engage deeply with each source.

Utilize Academic Databases: Use academic databases such as Google Scholar, PubMed, and ScienceDirect, among others. These platforms offer a wealth of scholarly articles, journals, papers, and other types of reliable sources that you might need for your research paper.

Evaluate Your Sources: Apply the CRAAP test (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose) to ensure your sources are credible. 

Follow Citations and References: Once you find a good article or book, use its reference list to locate additional sources. This is an effective way to find valuable resources and can provide you with a broader view of the research landscape concerning your topic.

Keep Track of Your Sources: Organize your sources as you go. Use citation management tools like Zotero, Mendeley, or EndNote to keep track of your research materials, making referencing easier when you write your paper.

Verify Online Information: Ensure that a reputable site publishes the information for online sources. Check the domain name (sites ending in .edu, .gov, or .org are often more reliable), and be wary of commercial sites that may be biased.

Conclusion on How To Find Sources for a Research Paper

Finding credible sources is fundamental in constructing a robust research paper. Utilizing various reliable sources ensures your paper is well-rounded, accurate, and informative. Remember to evaluate each source critically using tools like the CRAAP test and investigating the author’s background. 

Start with trusted databases and libraries, and always cross-reference the information you find to ensure reliability. Following these guidelines can create a well-researched paper with strong scholarly merit.