Finding a good topic to write about and establishing a strong thesis statement is challenging. Realizing that you must come up with 15 different sources and manage to use all of them in your paper, however, can be anxiety-inducing. You start to panic, so you begin to pick random quotes and stick them in the middle of a paragraph hoping they’re relevant. In the end, you end up with a mediocre grade for something that took you so long and caused you so much stress. Don’t fret. There is a method to this madness. Below are some tips and tricks to help you navigate the seemingly mountainous task of using your sources effectively.
If your assignment requires you to use a great number of sources, make sure you start working on gathering them ahead of time. Find all of your references and list them out in order of relevance to your topic and/or thesis statement. Then, begin reading from the most relevant sources. Some may seem like they’re a mile long, but you don’t have to read everything. Read the first few pages, the middle few pages, and the last few pages of the source. Most articles also have headings and subheadings that help guide you to the most useful information for your specific topic.
Prepare your best choice of weapons, such as pens and highlighters, and brace yourself to tackle the giant beast! Highlight keywords or phrases as well as statistics. Then, in your own words, summarize research studies and expert testimonies. Before you know it, you have condensed your source into digestible bits of information you actually understand.
You Did Not Plan Ahead; You Need a Plan B
If you did not plan ahead and are in a crunch for time, all hope is not lost. Flip through the Psalms for some encouragement and prepare to win the race against time. Choose a few sources you think you would be able to use with the ticking clock in mind. Don’t forget, you have to actually write the paper too. It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.
It is better to use fewer sources well rather than to use multiple sources poorly.
Once you’ve picked the sources you want to use, start applying the methods described above. If you need extra speed, read and highlight the first sentence of every paragraph. This gives you a general understanding of the sources’ claims about your topic. You can summarize and paraphrase these claims and put them to use!
Making It Make Sense
Using direct quotes, statistics, and other facts can make your paper seem choppy if it lacks organization. The key to using sources effectively is asking yourself a simple question: why? Why did you choose that particular source in this particular part of the paper? Once you are able to answer this question, you can be sure you are using the quotes and paraphrases correctly. Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement. It is also extremely important that you alternate between direct quotes and paraphrases throughout your paper.
Connect all the dots for the reader, reiterate implied ideas for clarification, and make sure it all agrees with your thesis statement.
Condensing and digesting the information found within sources might look a little different for each student; however, the overall goal should be gaining a clear understanding of the reason for the use of that particular source. It is also important that the reader can discern your own thoughts from a mere summarization of the sources. Practice evoking the question or prompt and your answer to it, also known as the thesis statement. And don’t forget, cite your sources!