What do I do after I've found some sources?
How do I know what to pay attention to when Iím reading a source?
1. Read the most general sources on your topic first, to get a sense of the context and historical period of your topic.
2. Then read the more specific sources. First, read to get the gist of what the source is saying. Does it pertain to your topic? If it doesn't, put it away. If it does, read it again, asking yourself the following:
What issue is the author addressing in this essay?
Why does the author think this is an important issue?
What is the author's thesis? (Hint: pay particular attention to the introduction and conclusion of the essay.)
How does the author support his/her position? What methodology does the author use?
Basically, you want to answer the questions What? How? and Why? for each source.
3. As you read each source, keep in mind that some ideas or points discussed in the source are more important than others. Some sentences contain major ideas; others, minor details or supporting points. Try to sort out the major points from the minor details.
4. As you read each source, you'll also want to evaluate it. Is it widely cited by other authors in this area? Is the author biased in some way about the topic? Which are the best sources on this topic? For more information about evaluating sources: Evaluating Information and Evaluating Web Sites.
5. Finally, look at the bibliography for each source. Some of the sources listed there might be useful for your own research. Reading the bibliographies of your sources also helps you get a sense of what has been written on a given topic. If you notice that a particular author is widely cited by other authors writing on your topic, it's probably because s/he is generally recognized as an authority on your topic, so you'll want to find sources written by that author.
6. As you research your topic, you may be asked to write an annotated bibliography. To learn more about what this is, why you might want to spend time writing one, and how to write one, see: