Choosing the best research resources

When I set an assignment for students I expect them to go off and carry out their own research, making use of appropriate resources and referencing them properly. I may have typical expectations of what they should do and the standard of work to produce – but I (and I suspect many other academics) don’t stop to think about how the students learn to do these things until they make mistakes – they get things wrong because they’ve never been taught, they have never learned and they don’t know any different.

This post, which is part of my Critical Practice Course will hopefully address some of these issues.

The key things I will be covering in this post will be:

  • Resources – what types of resources might be used in research and critical writing
  • Sources – what sources can we use to access the resources (where to find them)

What are sources and resources

Resources are the things we use, read, listen to etc to get the information, data, statistics etc we are looking for – the evidence we are going to use in our work.

Sources are where you get the resources from. For example, the internet, websites, a library. If you got an article from a magazine or a newspaper, the article is your resource but the magazine/ newspaper would be the source.

You can find more information from The University of Exeter about using sources and resources.

Resource Selection

You want to use a range of resources and to ensure that your information doesn’t just all come the one source. The reason for this is that if we just use one source for all our information it may be biased, promoting one point of view.

The range of sources and resources we have available today is pretty wide; with advances in technology, there are constantly evolving electronic sources of information. Just make sure you reference all your resouces and sources properly.

Resources could include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Trade Press and conference papers
  • Academic journal articles
  • Books, Surveys, Reports
  • Websites, Intranets (internal company websites)
  • Blogs, Vlogs, Videos, TV, Radio
  • Wikis
  • Talking to other people
  • Organisational Information (policies, procedures and other publications – these could be public – on their website – or private on an intranet etc)
  • Social Media

Deciding what we can trust

When we are writing critically we wish to be considered as reliable and trustworthy; we want to be taken seriously. Therefore we need to ensure that we are using sources that are also reliable and trustworthy. In this section I’m going to explore how we can decide if we can trust the sources we’re planning to use. There are some questions we can ask ourselves when we are looking at a resource or considering a source.

  1. Is it clear how the evidence presented in your resource has been gathered? If they present statistics, do they tell you where they have come from?
  2. Have the sources/authors used references in their work?
  3. Are the resources presenting facts or opinions – are they backing up what they say with evidence (remember you are looking to produce evidence-based work yourself so you need to use evidence).
  4. Who is writing/producing the information? Do they have a vested interest/could there be a “hidden” reason for their work? Eg, if you look at a company’s website, they will give you the best possible impression of themselves – you need to also use independent sources to get a more balanced and unbiased opinion.

Some final points for your consideration:

  1. Some good sources might be governmental and international organisations such as The United Nations (UN), World Health Organisation (WHO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Economic Forum (WEF) etc. Depending on the individual countries, you may also have other official organisations that are considered trustworthy.
  2. If you are considering news companies – newspapers, broadcasters etc – can you get your information from different sources – a range of newspapers, different broadcasters etc so you are getting different perspectives. Also are they reasoned and rely on evidence in their reporting or are they focused on being sensationalist for reader/viewer numbers?
  3. Be careful of resources where people are only expressing their opinions. I’m not necessarily saying don’t use them. It can be useful to provide some examples of opinions to support arguments, but they should not be your primary source of information.
  4. Watch out for Wikis, including Wikipedia, as these are open to editing by anyone, so you would really need to be careful to ensure information on these sites is accurate. I once read a story of a teenager who wishing to attend a concert but didn’t have tickets, went onto the artist’s Wikipedia site, changed their family details so that they appeared to be a cousin. They then used this as evidence to blague their way into the concert. Anyone really can change the information on Wikis, so they cannot be considered to be reliable.

I hope the above information helps in some small way to ensuring you are using appropriate research sources and resources for your work/studies.

I’d love to hear from everyone in the comments – let’s share additional tips for everyone; and please, if you have any questions, leave them in the comments too.

My next post in the series will be looking, in brief, at the difference between qualitative and quantitative data. If you want to ensure you don’t miss the next post, or any of my future posts, then please sign up to my blog using the subscribe button.


    • Aw thank you. That’s kind of why I’m writing it. It’s the things I say to my students year in, year out. So thought is capture it and I just need to share it.

  1. Actually, with today’s world it’s a great thing that so many resources are available on multiple sources.
    If I talk about a research about blog
    The there are blogs, articles, podcasts, videos, newspaper, magazine, social media, research papers and so many other multiple sources. But, we need to identify which we can trust.
    Like we cannot always trust social media, podcast or as you mentioned Wikipedia.
    What we need to do is look out for the source and directly get information from the trusted source.
    During pandemic, a lot of fake news was circulated. During that time, governments released protocols were real trust worthy.
    A powerful share ☀️👏🏻👏🏻

  2. Incredible blog post Brenda. There is a lot that I gathered here and yes you are right about choosing the best resources for research purposes. Also, as a blogger I do fathom that blogs are good examples of resources that are written by us and then those doing their research, findings and collecting data extract these resources like blogs from the sources such as websites. Also, I remember when I was a University Student my Lecturer would normally say don’t use Wikipedia as a source for referencing an assignment because it is an untrustworthy source plus as stated here anyone can edit the information placed there and make it sound real thereby forcing one to be biased on that topic. Moreover, I like the way you stated that as you research one shouldn’t use one resource because it will mean sticking to one point of view yet one should use multiple resources such as newspapers, magazines, social media and videos to get other points of view on the topic being researched👏👏💯

    • Thanks for reading and taking the time to provide a reasoned comment. I hope the information may help some current and future students develop their skills and grades. Its amazing how much a difference some of the technical issues can make. Plus, I suspect like any lecturer, you can tell from the work who has done lots of reaearch/reading

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