academic sources for a dissertation

Reliable academic sources for a dissertation: how to start the research and where to search

Jan 18, 2013
Even with a few reasonable ideas at hand, getting started with a dissertation project can seem like a far leap from reality for some. One issue that plagues many students is not only identifying a workable topic but knowing how to get the information they need to propel that topic in the right direction.

Starting your dissertation research

The dissertation research process involves several steps with the first one being topic selection. Though this can actually take a bit longer than expected for some, its good to know that great topics are those that are well-thought out and properly planned for (which of course is much easier said than done!)

Finding a suitable topic

  1. Stick with your interest

    Some of the best advice that can be given in this area is to choose a dissertation topic that interest you. Not just because its fun, but also for more practical reasons. One of them being that, in most cases topics that interest you are also topics that you have a sufficient amount of background information regarding. So thereby selecting a narrow and appropriate topic will be all the more easier to accomplish. Also considering the time that will be spent on your dissertation its also really worth your while to go for something you can at least feel a little bit passionate about.
  2. Avoid overly 'hot' or trendy topics

    Though current and 'hot' topics often make good papers, a few small issues can arise when using them for a dissertation topic. One being that, considering the length of time spent on your dissertation the 'hot' topic you selected may be ice cold by time you're finished. Also shying away from these may also help you avoid appearing cliche or have your paper looked at disfavorably because it deals with another 'saturated topic' that the reviewer is quite bored with. Instead aim for something genuine, a research question that truly fills a gap, is worth studying, and can definitely make an impact on your particular field of study; whether the topic its currently 'hot' or not.
*Tip on topic selection: Before you ask for help, spend some time really brainstorming and working through possible dissertation topics
Even though its great to ask for assistance when needed, sometimes we may make use of that option a little too quickly. The evidence of this usually appears when students go to teachers or advisors for assistance and only end up going through a brainstorming process that they could have easily done in their living room. A better method is to go for substance-when you seek specialized assistance, turn it into a lesson by going equipped with precise and tailored questions to really provide you with a better understanding of an issue an aide you in crafting your dissertation.

Conducting preliminary research

After you've acquired a suitable topic to research you'll need to get your feet wet by conducting some preliminary research. Doing this will hopefully allow you to better define your topic and find out exactly what type of articles and materials you need to collect. Preliminary research can be done by utilizing some of the following resources,
  1. General or specific encyclopedias
  2. Subject specific textbooks or dictionaries
  3. Conversations with an advisor or colleague knowledgeable on the topic
Note that these are not the only means of obtaining preliminary research. In some cases a simple internet search may also be sufficient.
So now that you have a better idea about your topic, how do you know which sources to review and which to leave alone?

Locating reliable sources

What makes a source reliable?

Reliability and credibility are undoubtedly essential components of any dissertation source. In most cases credible and reliable sources are those that the authorship can be confirmed and verified as well as the sources and origin of the information collected. In general sources worth considering are those that;
  1. appear in a peer reviewed or scholarly journal
  2. supply a bibliography or reference page with a list of credible sources
  3. have an author that is a specialist or expert in the field
  4. is affiliated with a well-known and recognized organization (For example, statistical data from a government organization)
  5. do not appear bias or subjective (unless you're specifically looking for this type of reference)
In most cases connecting with your local library for instance, will help you avoid many of the issues associated with credibility. Most educational institutions have affiliations with electronic databases that provide resource materials that have undergone fact-checking procedures before being published or made available for access. Going through approved means such as this, rather than hunting on your own is usually the best way to acquire the data you need for your dissertation.

Using the Internet

In some cases you may find that the information you require can be easily obtained online or is only available through a particular website. In cases such as this you should utilize the above guidelines in addition to other precautions before deciding to take the reference as a reliable source for your paper. Some other things to consider when evaluating online resources are;
  1. Is the information provided by an individual or an organization?
  2. Is there a monetary motive involved?
  3. Who is the site intended for?
  4. Is the material provided by users or experts?
  5. If by experts, what is the sites definition of an 'expert'?
Though other issues should also be considered when using web sources, these are some of the most common areas to look out for. In cases where the motive is overwhelming monetary, for instance, it may be safer to just find another source all together. And seeing that 'expert' advice on the Internet is quite common nowadays you should also question the definition of 'expert' for any site you visit (for research purposes). You'll find that some organizations have very high standards for contributors while others do not.
Likewise, a more positive issue to consider when obtaining online sources is that many researchers today have also turned to creating blogs and websites. They often use them as a means of collaborating with other researchers as well as to convey research findings. So with this there may be some hope in finding reliable online sources outside of the traditional electronic databases and encyclopedias normally utilized.
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