A General Note on Sources
It's best to have an idea of a particular fact, statistic, or example instead of just trawling for essays on your topic. For example, in an essay on the dangers of the internet and children, one fact readers would want to know is how many households (in America?) with children have internet access? Then, to give that number some meaning, you'd have to find out what percentage is that of all children in America.
Another way to look at this is to focus your search on the reasons or arguments that prove your thesis rather than the thesis itself. For an essay arguing that a liberal government is best for America, a search under welfare and entitlement programs would help you more than a general search on liberalism. If you're examining the causes of voter apathy, and the reasons for it are consumerism, lack of civic education, and distrust of government, you could research how history/government is being taught (or not being taught) in high school to prove your point, how consumerism is dominating American culture, and/or get poll reports on American's distrust of government.
Remember that your economics, psychology, sociology, history textbook is a fine source, as are the variety of specialized encyclopedias (Psychology Encyclopedia, etc.) in our library– though Encarta and other general encyclopedias are not.
And remember to use the best reference: the librarian.
A student told me a story of spending four hours in the library in a fruitless search for information on the latest unemployment rate. The next day, he asked the reference librarian his question: "I'm not lying — in five minutes I had the answer."
I don't think I need to spell anything out here...
CQ Researcher: A must see for argumentative essays. A weekly magazine that takes an in-depth look at a particular issue in the news. Its balanced coverage, quotes from authoritative sources, and annotated bibliography (which tells you about related articles) make it an excellent first place to search. Available in the Reference area of OCC library (and online). Use the blue index to see if your topic is included.
(many of these are on reserve in our library)
Opposing Viewpoints: (now available online as well) Each volume of this series covers a specific topic, such as gun control, and offers two opposing essays on different aspects of the issue. A good choice to find counter-arguments and to understand the basic issues/arguments surrounding your topic. Conduct a keyword search using "opposing viewpoints" on OCCAT (the college's online book catalog) to find specific titles. Access online through your campus portal account.
Taking Sides: Similar to Opposing Viewpoints, this series offers pro and con essays showing two sides of a controversial issue. Often more detailed and scholarly essays than Opposing Viewpoints.
Information Plus: A series of volumes on specific topics (ex. Aging in America, Youth in America), which offers a wealth of statistical data in one text. To find if your topic is covered (and keep in mind that Youth in America covers everything from numbers of high school dropouts to spending of teens), conduct a keyword search using "information plus" on OCCAT (the college's online book catalog) and scroll list to find matches for your subject. Many of these are located in the Reference section of the library.
As many people have noted, the WORST possible way to find information for college level essays is to do a basic search (through Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) on the web. Why? The reason is simple: while you can find a wealth of information, it is difficult to determine its value or authenticity. A site that looks very professional and authoritative could be written by a high school student – or a deranged mental patient bent on overthrowing the world by disseminating false information about fluoride in the tap water and aliens in your Cheerios.
Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement, but it is quite easy to find heavily biased and simply incorrect information on the web. In college-level writing, you are expected to use sources that have undergone a fact-checking process to ensure the validity of the information. Additionally, scholarly articles usually are "peer-reviewed" – read before publication by a few experts in that field of study – and thus present the more authoritative view of specialists who actively research and write about the topic.
Do not waste your time doing a general search of the web – concentrate on print or on online databases such as SIRS or EBSCOhost (see below) if you want to use the internet. If you must search online, evaluate each site using the following evaluation sites to judge your source (OCC, St. Louis University).
(the way to search online)
These are collections of articles from hundreds of thousands of periodicals from around the world, all accessible from your computer. The best thing about online information is the sea of texts available in these databases: the worst thing about online information is the sea of texts available in these databases. In other words, bring your snorkel and diving gear — or better yet, use Subject search or guided searches to shorten your time under water.
SIRS: Full texts articles of newspapers from around the nation and articles from general and specialized journals as well. The keyword search returns many (often too many) hits, so try the subject/topic search and use the “Descriptors” button at the top of articles that you find helpful to narrow your search. Access through your oceancruiser/campus portal account.
Oxford Reference Collection: Lost amid the welter of other sources is this gem. Divided into several sections from the sciences to history and literature, this should be your first source for a general overview on a particular topic. Interested in Ethiopian politics? The progressive movement in America? Vietnam War? This is the place to start.
EBSCOhost or Academic Search Premier: A mixture of full-text and bibliographical sources. Access through your campus portal account. NOTE: Be sure to use the “Subject” (see button at top of EBSCO screen) instead of the default keyword search – or be prepared to sift through the 2,938 entries which include your keyword.
New York Times: A fantastic source for statistical information, quotes from authoritative sources, and interviews with the vox populi.
Lexis-Nexis: a HUGE database that offers newspapers and other sources from around the world. Though a bit complex to use, it is an incredibly rich source.
CQ Researcher: A must see for argumentative essays. A weekly magazine that takes an in-depth look at a particular issue in the news. Its balanced coverage, quotes from authoritative sources, and annotated bibliography (which tells you about related articles) make it an excellent first place to search.
Opposing Viewpoints: Each volume of this series covers a specific topic, such as gun control, and offers two opposing essays on different aspects of the issue. A good choice to find counter-arguments and to understand the basic issues/arguments surrounding your topic.
Facts on File: A fine source for historical information. Particularly good on American history.