Any good research paper needs to sustain its arguments using strong sources. The problem is, how do you find these sources? No matter the field, there’s always a huge corpus of material out there, and you can’t read it all just to find the few books or articles which are actually relevant to your research.
In our complete guide to researching a paper, we covered the basics of finding sources, as well as how to cite and manage references efficiently when writing an essay or research paper. In this article, we’re going to cover a few more methods that you can use to find references for your research.
Whether it’s for a thesis paper, academic journal, or professional research, here’s how to find sources for your paper the right way.
Mine the Bibliography
Remember the difference between primary and secondary sources!
If a source provides a firsthand look at an event or phenomenon directly, it’s usually a primary source, meaning things like original medical research, historical documents, or eyewitness accounts of events.
If it uses primary sources to build its arguments or evaluates those primary sources themselves, it’s most likely a secondary source. Depending on your field of study, either type of source may have footnotes and a bibliography of works cited that you can use to find other relevant references for your research.
Examine everything your source says that relates to your topic. Check who the source relies on for its arguments by checking the notes, whether those are footnotes or endnotes.
Then, go one step further: See what other publications the footnote articles cite and who wrote them, and that’ll lead you to even more primary and secondary sources that you can use.
Leverage Online Databases
More and more material goes online every day, so there’s a lot less need to have access to a physical library in order to conduct in-depth research for an academic paper.
To find secondary sources, there are any number of online journals and resources that you can consult, with tens of thousands of books, journals, and studies available for every field of academic study. JSTOR, Academia.edu, Scribd, Google Scholar, and the Internet Archive are all good choices to get started (although some will require you to purchase a subscription or pay to download certain materials). However, generally speaking, if you search through several of these online journal databases, you should be able to find nearly every reference for your research that you’re looking for.
Don’t neglect your own institution’s online resources, either! Most colleges and universities generally have an online repository of their own published research (a great primary source), or digital versions of their library catalogue available to read online.
This is helpful not just as a library, but also as another way to mine a bibliography. Consult your institutional database, in particular wherever the dissertations are held. Look for a recent dissertation that’s close to your topic—the more recent, the better. A dissertation or thesis can be a great secondary source, as it generally has a literature review in front, which you can scan to both find and evaluate new sources.
Browse the Shelves
If you have access to a library and you already have a list of books, don’t stop at just your intended book list. The system of library classification means that books on related topics cluster close together. Check up and down the shelf – you might well find a book that’s relevant, but you’ve never come across before in your online search.
Consult the Archives
For some topics, archival research may be necessary. Archives collect unpublished material. Records that see publication are for libraries to deal with, but if it’s something that might not have wide circulation among the general public, an archive is your best bet. They’re an excellent place to find records, primary sources, or research papers, and sometimes you’ll even come across juicy debates carried out by academics in letters.
Accessing an archive to find references for your research can take a bit of effort, however. You’ll need to make an appointment ahead of time, usually via email. Tell them what you’re researching and what records you’re interested in, and your date of visit. If you’re still doubtful about whether certain papers may be useful, most archives are willing to have a short look at the records in question to see if they do pertain to your topic prior to you coming in.
Thankfully, archivists have been actively reducing the number of obstacles in the way of researchers, so you won’t have to resort to calling or emailing the archives directly just to see if they have what you need. For the US, ArchiveGrid helps to find which archive has the material you need, while the Digital Public Library of America is a unified catalogue for digital collections.
Ask The Librarians
Libraries are a great place to find secondary sources. No matter how familiar you may be with the library, there’s someone there who knows it much better than you do—the librarian. They know the shelves front and back, so even if they don’t know your topic specifically, they can point you in the right direction, or recommend something that you might not have considered.
Libraries also maintain certain digital resources, like records on CDs or specialized databases, which are best accessed with a librarian’s assistance. They can do the sorting for you and make sure that you’ll get something that’s useful, thus reducing the time you spend sifting through material to find references for your research. They can also give you access to specialized databases, which contain a wealth of information, but may require an administrative password.
Streamlining Your Workflow
All of the above does take a deal of work, but there are some alternatives. Flowcite’s Knowledge Library integrates with multiple knowledge repositories, combining all of these research avenues into a single platform. Instead of searching through each paper or journal article individually, Flowcite’s AI-assisted search can go through all of them and provide you with relevant references for your research based on your previous searches.
There may still be times where you’ll have to buckle up and go to the library, but those visits will only be for primary or secondary sources that you can’t find online anywhere.
Gone are the days of frantic Googling, hoping to find a goldmine resource amongst all the inexpert blogs and paywalled material that you can’t access on the internet. Flowcite’s Knowledge Library makes sure you only use reputable references in your research, and that you can access them all without having to pay extra.
These methods will help you find the sources you need to back up your paper. Whether it’s bibliographies, shelves, archives, or digital repositories, there are many ways to find supporting material for a research paper, as long as you know where to look.
All this and the work of writing and citing your paper may look intimidating, and that’s where Flowcite comes in. Flowcite’s Reference Management 3.0 brings you not only a unified database integrated with the Knowledge Library, but also all the tools necessary to write your paper, apply citations and formatting, and proofread the finished product.
There’s no need to bounce between a dozen tabs and text editors at once just to write your paper. Flowcite offers all you need in just one program.
Get started with Flowcite today for free and start conducting your research in minutes, not hours.
Content Marketing Strategist
Brittany is a Content Marketing Strategist at Flowcite, and an outstanding academic writing expert. She holds a first-class Honours degree in Literae Humaniores from the University of Oxford and has been certified in Digital Marketing Analytics by the MIT Sloan School of Management.