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Find, Evaluate, Cite: Home

Finding Sources

The secret to finding good sources is utilizing good search terms, otherwise known as keywords. Identifying keywords will make the research process much more efficient and effective.

Proceed through each subsequent tabs here to learn...

  • what keywords are and why they are important
  • how to identify keywords and synonyms
  • how to use those keywords and synonyms to formulate an effective search

What are Keywords?

They are simple terms or phrases that describe your topic. 

You will enter your keyword(s) into one of our databases, our catalog, or a search engine to find sources.

Library materials are organized by criteria such as Title, Author, and Subject. A keyword search is the broadest type of search because it will look for your word(s) in each of these fields as well as any others that may appear in an item's record.

Identifying Keywords

Pick out the most important terms in your topic or research question. These will frequently be the nouns in your phrase or question.

Example from a topic:

obesity and children in America

Example from a research question:

Do laws banning hate speech violate one's civil rights?

In the examples above, the keywords are in red. You will usually have 2 to 3 keywords.

Another thing to keep in mind is that keywords can be a single term (for example, "laws") or a concept comprised of multiple terms (for example, "hate speech").

Using Synonyms

Sometimes the keywords you have selected do not provide you with good search results. To yield different results, you may just need to try some different terms to describe the same concept. Thus, it's important to identify possible synonyms or similar concepts to your keywords.


Do laws banning hate speech violate one's civil rights?

  • Laws = regulations, legislation
  • Hate speech = inflammatory speech
  • Civil rights = civil liberties, first amendment rights, freedom of speech

HINT: some keywords will have several useful synonyms, while others may have few to none.

Forming Search Strategies

Once you have your keywords and synonyms, you will need to combine them to form search strategies. The idea behind forming these search strings is to find the one that will get you the most relevant results to your topic.

To do this, simply take each of your keywords and string them together by using the word "AND":

  • laws AND hate speech AND civil rights
  • laws AND hate speech AND freedom of speech
  • legislation AND hate speech AND civil rights

If one string doesn't return many relevant results, switch one of the terms out for a synonym and see what you get!

HINT: you will utilize these types of search strategies into the search box when you begin searching the library databases for articles.

Evaluating Sources

There are different types of sources that may potentially be used for your research paper. They can vary in scope between popular and scholarly materials, as well as the format of the material (book, journal article, newspaper, website, etc.).

You cannot just assume a source will be useful or reliable based on face value alone. It is important to know both why you should evaluate your sources, as well as how to evaluate them. The resources listed on this page are a few great starting points to understanding more about your sources and why you can't just settle on anything you find with a Google search!

Why Evaluate Your Sources?

Evaluating your sources is an important part of the research process. The quality of the assignment you complete will depend largely on the quality of the information you use, so you will want to make sure you are using high quality sources.

Different types of information are communicated through different means, so determining your information need, as well as considering the best types of sources to locate that information, is key to finding a robust pool of potential sources.

The CRAAP Test (see next tab) features five criteria to use when evaluating sources. This is only one useful resource; other resources on evaluating information can be found at the links to the right.

The CRAAP Test


C Currency

When was the source published (or last updated)?

Is there more recent information available that you should be considering?

How important is timeliness for your topic?

R Relevance

Does the source answer your research question?

Does it add something new to your knowledge of the topic?

A Authority

Who wrote the source?

What are the author's credentials? Do they have expertise in this field?

Who published or posted this source?

A Accuracy

How true and reliable is the content? Can you verify the information in another source or from personal knowledge?

For scholarly works, are there in-text citations and a bibliography?

P Purpose

What is the purpose of this source? Does it inform, persuade, advertise, mislead, etc.?

Is it objective or is there a clear bias present?

Citing Sources

In this section you will find information about citing sources in your work. In accordance with Austin College's Academic Integrity Policy, all sources (whether print or electronic) must be cited correctly within the text of your work and in a list of works cited. Citation formats (or "styles") vary depending on the discipline. Check with your professor or reference your course syllabus if you are unsure of which style to follow.

Keep in mind, there are a variety of style manuals available for you in the library. Many are available at the Reference/Research Help Desk for in library use only, while others may be found in the Reference or Circulating Books collection. 

Why Cite Your Sources?

There are many reasons to cite the sources you use for any research assignment, whether it is a paper or presentation. Following is a list of these reasons and explanations for why citing properly is so important.

Acknowledging Others' Work

When you acknowledge an author's work, you are giving them credit for their own original ideas, research, and effort. You should always give credit to an author for their work


Maintaining Credibility

Citations show that you have researched your topic and you know what you are talking about. It also shows that you consulted credible sources during the research process.


Avoiding Plagiarism

Plagiarism includes not citing your sources, or not citing your sources properly. Learning how and when to properly cite your sources will help you avoid plagiarism.


Finding Your Sources is Easier

The readers of your paper or audience of your speech can more easily find the sources you used. This is handy in the case that they need to verify the information you used, or if they just simply wish to learn more about the topic.

How to Cite

Citation styles provide you the rules for formatting your citations, the paper itself, and your works cited/reference page.

APA and MLA are the two most common citation styles, but there are many others, such as Chicago, Turabian, and ACS. Citation styles vary for each discipline. Check with your professor, or reference your course syllabus or assignment, to verify which style you should use.

Sources are typically worked into your paper or speech in the following ways:

  1. Quoting -- this is when you copy a short passage from a source word for word, utilizing quotation marks around the copied text.
  2. Paraphrasing -- this is when you use an idea from a source but put it into your own words. A paraphrased statement can be about as long as the original text.
  3. Summarizing -- this is when you restate the main ideas of a source in your own words. A summary is usually shorter than the original text. 

When Do I Cite?

When writing a research paper, you need to cite:

  • within the paper, using in-text citations, to reference the author's work or idea
  • in the bibliography (or "reference list" / "works cited" page), which will contain the full citation for each source you used

When giving a speech or presentation, you need to cite:

  • in the bibliography, just as you would when writing a paper
  • in the speech outline, using in-text citations
  • during the speech, utilizing verbal cues such as "according to...," etc.

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) is a fantastic resource for help with citing your sources if you are using APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), Chicago, or AMA (American Medical Association) styles. Detailed citation information for various types of works in a number of different formats is provided. The APA, MLA, and Chicago formatting and style guides are linked to below.

Managing Your Citations

These are some tools you may use to help you organize and cite your references:

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