Effective Research

Everything from reliable sources to proper citation format!

Reliable Sources

You can learn a lot about a website's reliability by simply looking at the domain. Some of the domains that would be helpful include:

  • .org
  • .edu
  • .gov
These are better alternatives to domains such as .com.

Some other things to take into consideration when trying to find a reliable source are

  1. The author
Are they are expert in the field in which they are reporting in? Do they have any past experience with their topic? etc.

2. Purpose

Does this site have any reason to only give you one side of the story, or only certain information? Does the site have any sponsors that would make them only give you one side of the story?

3. Ads

Does this site have a lot of ads? Are the ads relevant with the topic in which you are reading on?

As far as finding online sources go, though, databases are your best bet. Databases are a more filtered version of Google, so that you know all of the facts on there are true, and up to date. Some examples of good databases can be found below.

Your public library will also have a list of databases that you can also use, as long as you have a library card. Your school might have a universal one for all students to use, or you may need to get one yourself.

Citing Your Soucre

Now that you've found the source that you want to use, you need to know how to give the author the credit they deserve. Otherwise you will be committing plagiarism, which is explained lower on the page. On most databases, you can find the cite button somewhere on the page of which you wish to cite. When you find this, click on it, scroll down to MLA, (Modern Language Association), and copy and paste it into your paper.

Below is a picture of what the MLA format should look like for your the source that you are citing, and what it should include.

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You can also use in text citations, which are explained below. (See Quotations)

Plagiarism and How to Avoid It

Plagiarism is using or closely imitating the words of another author without the author's permission, and not only is it not nice, but it's illegal, too. The laws of plagiarism are so strict, you can get in trouble for plagiarizing yourself!

There are ways to avoid this, however, and these including using citations, (in text or in your bibliography). These we have mention above. But there are some other ways, too. These are quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing.

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Quoting is where you take what the author said, word for word, and put it straight into your text. You must follow a specific format, though. For example, say you were researching Abraham Lincoln, and wanted to put the following text from a source into your article. You can think of no better way to reword it, so you decide to quote.

It is said that as a lawyer, young Abraham Lincoln often used his iconic stovetop hat to store important papers.

First, you need to put quotation marks around it.

"It is said that as a lawyer, young Abraham Lincoln often used his iconic stovetop hat to store important papers."

You are still not done, however. Next, you must cite your source in text, for using their work word for word. This requires you to use the author's name, and the page number. This should be in parenthesis.

"It is said that as a lawyer, young Abraham LIncoln often used his iconic stovetop hat to store important papers." (Hist O. Ree, 1)

You cannot, however, use too many quotes, or else that can also be considered plagiarism, for all of your work is the author's words. The maximum ratio of quotes to your own thoughts and ideas should never exceed 50% on the quotes side.


Paraphrasing is when you take the author's words, and change them to synonyms, and rearrange the wording so that the text gets across all of the same points, but cannot be mistaken for the author's work. Let's use the example of the Abraham Lincoln fact again.

It is said that as a lawyer, young Abraham Lincoln often used his iconic stovetop hat to store important papers.

Let's see what words we can't change. These include names, dates, places, and other proper nouns. For our example, the only thing we absolutely cannot change is the name Abraham Lincoln. All the other words can and should be changed and rearranged. For example:

Important files and stationery were often hidden in the depths of the top hat perched on young Abraham Lincoln's head.


Last but not least, we can summarize. That's where you take the main ideas of an article and compress it so that it only addresses the key points. Let's take this paragraph from the Tell Tale Heart, by Charles Dickens.

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up the bed listening, -just and I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall."

What are the main points, or things that are happening in this paragraph?

  1. 1 hour of waiting
  2. The man did not lay down
  3. Both characters were listening to the death watches.
Now we can reword, rearrange, and simplify! For example:

The man did not lay down in the entirety of the hour, for which I sat in silence. He too, I could tell, was listening to the death omen upon us.

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When you are searching the search engine and or database of your choice, it is important to know just how to search in order to find the information that you need. You see, when you search for something on Google, Bing, Ebsco Host, etc., it pulls up all possible websites that have at least one word that you searched for somewhere on it. For example, if I searched for "What is the score of the Kansas City Chiefs football game?", I get results for any website that has at least one of the following words in it.

  1. what
  2. is
  3. the
  4. score
  5. of
  6. Kansas
  7. City
  8. Chiefs
  9. football
  10. game
I might end up with a source talking about an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy is an indian chief! That's definitely not what I wanted!

Instead, we should try pulling out just a few words that describe the main idea of what I want to know about. In this scenario, we might use:

  • score
  • Kansas
  • City
  • Chiefs
  • game