What sources are reliable for dissertation writing?
Overview of dissertation research
Dissertations generally fall under two categories; theoretical or literature-based writings and experimental or scientific writings. With the later category, the student conducts original research or hands-on investigations and provides methods, results and an evaluation of findings. Both forms involve extensive research from a variety of sources. The researcher may begin his or her search for credible resources online or in the library and will likely come across several materials obtaining useful information. Some common sources for dissertations include;
Books and E-books
Professional Publications (from a particular field such as engineering, education etc.)
Government documents, records and statistics
Manuscripts (old documents found mainly in libraries)
Types of sources: Primary and Secondary
While constructing your dissertation and gathering resources you'll want to gain at least a basic understanding of the benefits and disadvantages of primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are considered to be first-hand accounts due to the fact that the person authoring the work is either the one that experienced the event or is the one who performed the original research on the topic. Therefore, if for example, your dissertation involves a case study on domestic violence, were you to interview 25 batterers on the history of abuse, your dissertation would then be considered original research.
Primary resources are important because they give us fresh, first-hand knowledge and information that would be difficult to obtain otherwise. For example, a diary or letter written by someone 100 years ago about an event that occurred in a small village, will reveal specific details and descriptions that would be almost impossible to learn about without those or similar records on hand. Alternatively, primary sources are limited by their subjectivity, as the author may be speaking from his or her point of view only and not consider other perspectives and issues that would give the topic a more objective examination.
On the other hand, most of the material you may find yourself wanting to cite as references will be secondary sources. Secondary sources analyze, discuss, and examine primary or first-hand accounts as well as other secondary sources. They provide an objective point of view of the subject matter and are written after the event occurred or after the original research was conducted. One disadvantage of secondary sources may be that they lack the vivid 'first-hand' account that is found with primary sources. Though to counter that secondary sources usually provide a more comprehensive or 'well-rounded' approach to the subject because they provide an analysis of several books, documents, reports, etc. rather than being limited to the details of one event or experiment.
Reliable and credible sources
The credibility of your sources is the credibility of your dissertation. Unreliable sources question the authority of your paper and your knowledge of the subject discussed. Critical examination of a text can only get you but so far if the author and his or her sources are not credible. Whether you thoroughly analyze the credibility of the facts or not, the information collected may still be question and possibly disregarded. By relying on credible sources and databases initially you can help eliminate wasted time on your part spent obtaining useless references and undergoing stressful fact-checking.
Databases and library catalogs are a great place to start any dissertation research. Databases, such as Academic Search Premier allow users to search using a variety of methods such as keyword, subject, author, title, date, source type etc. The articles listed are generally from periodicals such as journals and are some of the most reliable resources simply because they have been peer-reviewed and fact checked by professionals in the field. Most colleges offer access to specific databases where current students are allowed to search, download, and print full text articles.
Library catalogs also are very helpful in obtaining the information you need for your dissertation. The catalog is limited to the items found in the library but if a college or university has multiple libraries search results often show the availability of items in those libraries as well. Many libraries have partnerships with neighboring libraries and sharing programs in place. In the event that you need a title from somewhere else you should speak to a librarian about arranging the transfer.
Using the Internet
The other most common place to find information is the internet. You may use the internet to find credible sources such as government documents and statistics (for example the Center for Disease Control in the US has studies and reports on health related matters) and other valuable information. Google Scholar for example, may be used to search for scholarly or journal articles for your dissertation.
Wikipedia has many encyclopedia-like articles but should not be heavily relied upon because the information can be changed and edited by users who may or may not be experts in the field or have any authority on the subject. Overall the key is to know how to spot a credible resource. If you understand how to properly do this then you can browse sources freely and known when to take from a source and when to leave it alone.
Questions to ask in identifying credibility
Who is the author and what are their credentials?
What is the website? Is it a credible organization?
What is the purpose of the writing? What is the author trying to achieve?
What is the funding source? Is there a motivation to push a service or sell a product?
*For example, you may not get an objective opinion on the effects of a weight loss product if the article is written by the company that sells the product.
Does the author have a bibliography?
Identifying reliable sources for your dissertation can be easy to accomplish by sticking with known and reputable organizations and relying on peer-reviewed journals that are found in many electronic search databases. If your college does not offer access to these databases you can often obtain membership on your own through the organization's website. Jstor, for example is a famous database that offers a wealth of scholarly information covering various disciplines. Alongside this, if you find a book or other item that you feel has reputable information but is not connected to a well-known organization or journal, simply make use of the author's bibliography to clarify things. The bibliography should reveal whether or not the author's text matches his sources and in the event that fact-checking needs to take place you can refer back to the references provided.
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