When writing a dissertation essay, it’s important to use quality references. For some students, this can be the most difficult part of writing. It’s fairly easy to find articles, books, or other resources which will support your argument or clarify your points. Finding reputable sources, on the other hand, can be a challenge.
That’s why you should ask yourself the following essential questions when compiling each source:
1. Is the Author an Expert in Their Field?
Seek out texts by authors who have experience in the relevant field. For example, if you’re writing an essay about Ernest Hemingway, you don’t have to cite an opinion piece a student posted on their blog. Instead, you have to cite scholarly papers or books written by professors who specialize in Hemingway studies.
Before citing a source, research its author to learn more about their background, qualifications, and professional reputation. You should also look for authors who hold relevant degrees. Although it’s not always the case, at times, an author with a PhD degree is less reliable than an author without one.
2. Was This Academic Paper Published in a Peer-Reviewed Journal?
When evaluating the credibility of a source, find out if it was published in a peer-reviewed journal. If so, it means that other professionals in this field have vouched for the quality of the work. It’s actually fairly easy to find sample dissertations on the internet—students often mistake them for genuine, published articles. Make sure you know where an article was published before you cite it.
3. When Was it Published?
When citing primary-source documents, it’s reasonable to use older sources. To go back to the Hemingway example, you may want to cite his own personal journals or letters in your essay.
However, when citing other books or articles on a topic, strive to use current examples. Scholarly analysis of these topics develops over time. If you cite an article or book that’s several decades old, you may find yourself promoting a theory or perspective that experts in the field no longer take seriously.
4. Who Sponsored the Study?
This is an especially important question to ask when writing about science or related subjects. Often, you’ll find that major studies were in fact sponsored by individuals, companies, or organizations who had a vested interest in a certain outcome.
For instance, if you were to write about the health effects of tobacco use, you do not have to cite a study sponsored by a cigarette company. The conflict of interest casts doubt on the validity of their findings.
While it may take some work to determine who (if any) sponsored a given study, it’s a necessary step to take if you want to ensure your sources are reliable.
Even if you’re an otherwise strong writer, you can’t write an effective dissertation using unreliable sources. Remember, your professors are grading you on your ability to conduct proper research, and not just on your ability to craft a compelling essay. Research your sources thoroughly before using them.