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This worksheet is designed to help you better read and analyze your sources for your research paper. Until these questions become natural to you whenever you read a research source, you should revisit this worksheet and use it with each source.
For regular purposes, simply going through this list of questions and mentally answering each one is enough. If you are using this list to prepare for a written critique of a source, you probably should write your answers down, to solidify them a bit more.
- Take your potential research paper source and ask yourself the following questions, in order, about the source.
- If you aren’t able to answer a question, go back to the source and review/re-read it again (or at least the pertinent sections).
- If after reviewing, you still can’t answer the question in any detail, you can go on if you wish, but the odds are that this source probably isn’t the best source for you to be using. (Note that I’m not saying that it’s a bad source or that there’s anything wrong with you, just that if the source and yourself as a reader don’t mesh, using it in your paper is a bad idea).
- What are the author’s credentials? What makes them a trustworthy source for a college/professional level research paper (as opposed to something read for personal pleasure/information) ?
- What level of reader/user is this source intended for? Is it appropriate for a college/professional level research project?
- What is the main thesis of the source? (put this in your words, not the original authors) What is the author trying to prove or say about the subject?
- What are the author’s main supporting arguments or points that support that thesis?
- What part of the argument is the most convincing (to you)?
- Does any part (or parts) of the argument seem weaker or more questionable to you as a reader? If so, why? (and every argument tends to have its weak spots)
- Does the author use statistics to back up their claims? If so -- who or what is the source of those statistics? How believable are the actual statistics themselves? Are the numbers just thrown at you, or are they analyzed and explained in the context of the overall thesis? Are the statistical arguments/claims backed up with other evidence or just the statistics?
- Does the author use any specific examples to support their claims? If so -- how believable are those examples? (there have been several cases lately of journalists being fired for making up examples). Does the author use the example to support other evidence, or do they use the example as their sole proof that something is true?
- Does the author use any primary evidence? (primary evidence is evidence generated by the author -- such as original experiments, surveys conducted specifically for the research, original interviews, etc). If so, is the creation of that primary evidence explained clearly in the source? (how the experiment was conducted, when the interview took place, what questions were asked of whom in the survey, etc). Does the author connect this primary evidence to other sources/evidence or base the argument entirely on the new information that they have generated?
- What parts do you agree with or see a use for in your paper?
- What parts do you disagree with? Why? (these can also be useful in a research paper to set up arguments that you later refute with your other evidence)
- How does this source fit in with your overall research? Does this source connect with and/or support your other sources? Are there ways that the information from this source can be synthesized with your other sources to build your own argument/thesis about the overall subject? (note that the more sources you read, the more complete this answer can be -- it’s a good idea to revisit this question later in the process after you’ve read more of your sources)