To better understand the process of researching, it should be recognized that there are sources of information all around us. We commonly use them in situations ranging from a conversation with a friend to an online discussion. The difference in academic research is that this “casual conversation” turns into a discussion with the readers of your paper. Therefore, it may help to think of doing research and using sources of information as just another way to enhance your conversation with the audience.
Even before you learn the rules of citation, recognize that you already know quite a bit about how to work with sources. It can be helpful here to think of sources as “other voices.” Sources are used when you reference an idea that was heard in a conversation. They are used when considering what to buy — whether the source is an advertisement, a slogan you can’t get out of your head, the fact that a friend recommended a product, or that you’ve looked up price quotes and shopped around. You become knowledgeable about making decisions by piecing together the information from many sources. Sources are part of our lives; they are all around us and are a part of how we breathe life into the words that express what we think.
In research writing, it is similar in the sense that the same act of interacting with other voices is present, and only another layer is added. Because writing is being done, you’re also presenting the sources in an organized way, so that your sources are used in a way that supports your point of view. This means that any and all sources that remotely relate to the topic can’t be thrown in; instead, pick and choose the best sources for your purposes, and use them strategically for effect.
Sources are capable of playing a variety of roles in your writing. Sometimes sources are used as examples; sometimes they present evidence. Sources can also be used to present a counterargument. Other times, they are used only to be built upon and refined. Nevertheless, it should be realized that sources can serve multiple purposes in a paper.
This is nothing new. To relate this to an everyday situation, try this: Spend a week paying attention to the conversations and discussions you have. Listen for sources used and try to discern for what reasons they were used. You’ll often hear people cite the news or refer to a game when talking about sports. You’ll hear friends quote conversations they’ve had with other friends. You will hear people discussing important issues with the participants in that discussion providing reasons (evidence) — facts and opinions, but often a mix of the two -for why they feel the way they do.
In writing, the natural act of conversing with and referring to others is taken one step further. Knowing in advance that you’ll be writing for an audience, sources (other voices) will be looked at while exploring an idea and planning how to appeal to those readers, using terms and conventions that they will recognize. However, do not let this part of the research process get in the way of doing what comes naturally. Research is about curiosity and interest. It is about having something to say and finding the evidence to support it. That is the basis of research and working with sources. Thus, the technicalities and rules of research, while important, should not discourage you from doing research and effectively using sources.