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Evaluate Sources

What kind of evidence do you need?

What Question Are You Trying to Answer?

The three parts of a compelling research question are:

  • Parameters, or boundaries. These are often elements like time period, theme, place, or person. For example, instead of writing your history paper on the American Civil War you will write about the effect of women (person) in rural areas (place) taking on greater power and responsibility in the absence of the male members of their family (theme) during the American Civil War (time period). 
  • Controversy. This doesn't mean that you can only write about hot button issues! Instead, consider whether or not someone else could write a response to your paper in which they disagree with your conclusion.
  • Interesting. You don't have to love every class you take! But try to find something that you don't mind spending some time thinking about.

Once you have a compelling research question, look at each source you find and ask yourself whether or not this source helps you answer your research question. If it does, great! Use that source. If it doesn't, then discard it. Likewise, the issue you are researching determines the sources you should use. Compare the following research questions:

  • How did Americans' perception of the ability of African Americans to succeed economically and socially change during the Obama administration?

For the first research question, you could potentially use the following:

  • Seltzer, R., & Hutto, J.W. (2015). The effect of race, partisanship, and income on perceptions of the economy before and after the election of Barack Obama. The Social Science Journal 53 (3), 346-356.

  • This interview with the Executive Director of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, an organization started by President Barack Obama to ensure that young black men can achieve their dreams

Both are good sources, but they answer your research question in different ways. One is a scholarly article, the other is not. Whether you use one or both depends on what type of paper you are writing and what requirements your professor has set.

For more help creating a research question, see the University Writing Center.

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