What is the purpose of sources?
Information can be presented in many different ways and in different formats. Writing an assignment is partially about knowing which sources and information will be the most useful for your needs. Each source has its own purpose and role. In many cases, the types of sources we use will be those that help build our reasoning and overall strength of the thesis. Other sources are used for definitions or documentation, such as encyclopedias. The type of sources you use will depend on the information you need for your assignment, and the points you are trying to make.
Articles come in a variety of formats, for example in journals, printed newspapers or online. Always assess the type of article you have in front of you. Many articles (especially those published in scientific journals) have a high level of quality, and can help make your arguments stronger.
The scientific article
A scientific article is a text where an author writes about a specific subject or case. The article must present new insights or support existing knowledge in a verifiable form. The scientific article is used to disseminate research results within and across the scientific community.
A review article provides an overview of a research topic based on a range of studies. The review offers a summary, analysis, knowledge status, and sometimes conclusion to a research question. The review article is a good place to start as a general orientation in a field of research.
Professional Peer Review
Professional peer review means that an article has been reviewed by at least two professionals within a field of research before being accepted for publication. The author(s) of the article receive feedback and suggestions for improvements that must be made before the article can be published. This helps to ensure that articles meet a certain level of quality. This also helps to ensure that the articles follow the academic and scientific guidelines of their specific field.
Always consider the source for both peer-reviewed articles and articles published in other journals. Articles that are not peer reviewed can still be relevant.
The essay is a personalized form of an article that is clearly shaped by the author’s opinions and attitudes. The author may use personal experiences, anecdotes, or methaphors as illustrative examples. It is often written with the intention to entertain and can be presented in a more approachable language. The essay falls into a genre of writing between subject and prose-based writing.
The academic essay is a genre that can be defined in various ways. Ensure you consult your course material for formal requirements
Popular science article
The popular science article, like the scientific article, conveys insights and findings from new research. What is different is that the popular science article’s goal is to communicate this information outside of the scientific research community to a more general audience. Popular science articles often use journalistic language. The level of verifiability, documentation and description of methods is slightly lighter than you would find in a scientific article. Similar to the essay, the use of metaphor is common in the popular science article.
A textbook is an introduction for students into a subject and its surrounding discourse. A textbook often includes current theories as well as a short history of the subject. The aim of a textbook is to include students in the academic community. A textbook does not decide what the ’correct knowledge’ is in a subject area, but rather represents the theories that the author considers to be the most important.
A thesis is a longer work on a topic or idea within a subject area, normally a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation. Specific requirements apply to methods and use of theories, and for a Ph.D. dissertation, the research community expects new results or perspectives.
Bachelor’s theses and other smaller student papers should only be used for inspiration. You may for example use them to find relevant literature, and as examples for organising your own assignment.
There are many different websites that can be used to find relevant information on a given topic. News sites offer the latest news, and it can be helpful to see how your topic is covered in the media. You can also find great quotes on different sites relevant to your field. However, there is a lot of information online, and many sites are less than ideal as sources in an academic context.
Encyclopedia vs Wikipedia
Encyclopedias contain trustworthy, reputable information and background material on a variety of topics. The articles are compiled by subject editors and experts across a range of subjects and utilize reference lists. Encyclopedias are available in printed and electronic editions.
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that is created and edited by anyone who chooses to. Feel free to use Wikipedia as a starting point to get an overview of a topic and to look up the sources used there. The basic rule is that you should never use Wikipedia as your sole source, but you can use it to compare perspectives against other sources. Ensure you check what you find in Wikipedia against reputable academic sources.
Encyclopedias are good sources to use when defining words and concepts or to look up a topic.
A blog can be an easy way to get an overview of discussions in different forums. You can subscribe to blogs with, for instance, an RSS feed. Be aware that the style of a blog can often be in diary form and discuss the writer´s personal experiences or opinions. These are not always based on verifiable and scientifically documented claims.
Check to see if there are any professional blogs in the area you are researching. For example, see the blog Forskning.no.
An op-ed is a relatively short text of an enlightening or reasoning character, usually in a newspaper. Op-eds are often used by researchers to bring research-based knowledge into the public. Op-eds, just like encyclopedias and Wikipedia, can be a good place to start to get an overview of a given topic and can help to give you a better understanding of the topic.
News broadcasters and other sites that report the latest news may be useful for getting a perspective on how topics are addressed. Note that, in the same way as op-eds, popular science and essays, news reports are not academic and should be avoided as part of argumentation and discussion.
Radio and TV programmes
Radio or TV programmes can also be a good place to get fresh angles for your assignment. If you are going to write about psychiatry, but are unsure how to approach it, a documentary can be a good source of inspiration.
Important to note
If you want to use radio or TV programmes, short clips can be used without special permission, but for long clips you must contact the filmmaker or producer for permission.
Pictures from the Internet, photography, illustrations, artwork
It is important to be aware of where chatbots such as ChatGPT, BingChat, and Bard get their information from and how they create their answers to your prompts.
The chatbots (conversation robots) are language models that have been trained on a large amount of text taken from various sources. These can be books, Wikipedia, newspaper articles, or scientific journals.
Although the chatbots are trained on texts that contain a lot of information, they are not trained to provide that information correctly or obtain reliable knowledge. They are trained to detect patterns in language and respond along the line of these patterns. Sometimes the answer will match correct information, other times it won’t.
It is not possible to know where the information was obtained, nor is the information the chatbots base their answers on necessarily up to date.
Important! Always check the information a chatbot gives you with the information you can find in a reliable source. If a chatbot cites a source, check if this is an actual source. It might just be something the chatbot predicts likely to exist, even if it doesn’t, or that it has picked up as a likely source for its answer, even if it isn’t.
Fieldwork and other observational studies
In different academic fields and subjects where participant observation is useful as a method, informants are often an important source.
Exercise: Which websites would you want to use?
You are just starting on a task, and have decided on an overall theme. You are looking for inspiration and ideas for what different angles you take on the theme. Where do you start?
You have begun your discussion section and are looking for a source that helps to build up some of your arguments. What kind of source makes your reasoning stronger?