Who Said That?

In the heat of the paper writing battle where do you get your references? Do you spend much time in the local library? The clock is ticking on that deadline and with as much information as can be found at your fingertips you may be wasting your time.

Many of you have lives that often interfere with the time you’ve allotted to do your schoolwork.  Occasionally, the schoolwork we all fight with is that animal called the essay. Research papers, opinion papers, analytical papers, real life application papers, papers, papers, papers! Welcome to school.

Though they may be contrary to the scale of most enjoyable ways to spend your time, essay papers are an indispensable learning and teaching tool for several reasons. Primarily they are a way to show you understand the material and can intelligently represent that knowledge.  Additionally, learning how to properly write a paper translates to the real world as many jobs require reports, proposals and other forms of formal writing.

Standing outside my local library in Huntington, Utah.

Perhaps one of the most valuable fringe benefits of essay writing comes from finding legitimate references. One blog post is not sufficient to explain the individual and social values of basing opinions and actions on sound reasoning so you’ll just have to trust that if you do the legwork for a legitimate footnote not only will you sound smarter—you’ll be smarter. In my case the local library has a couple thousand titles and closes at 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and is closed all weekend—not exactly the mecca for research. So where to go?

Here are a few tips:

  • Wikipedia is not a resource for your essay. Much like my local library it carries some interesting facts mixed with the town gossip. (Don’t get me wrong—I love my local library. The amazing librarian even offered to proctor my exams before or after normal business hours so I could test in peace.  Try getting that kind of help in a big city library.)
  • You are a student at The Penn State University — use the online access to the University Library system. It has millions of volumes, and what is not immediately available online can be shipped to you. Last summer I was fortunate enough to plan ahead and use this resource having several books shipped to me for a large research paper. I routinely use the exclusive access that Penn State Libraries have to various professional research articles and journals and highly recommend it.
  • Search from major periodicals. New York Times is my personal favorite, but all major “papers” have an internet presence that is searchable by topic.
  • Look for opposing positions on the issue. Not only will this add a dimension to your paper but you will be better educated on the issue.
  • Did I mention that Wikipedia is not a resource for essay writing? Two guys on the corner paraphrasing old copies of the encyclopedia they found at grandma’s house is almost as good. (Ok, maybe not quite. I actually frequent Wikipedia for all kinds of quick interests and have found it fairly reliable. I just haven’t met a professor yet that will approve it to reference your paper with.)
  • Reference your sources properly — in text and post text. Many of the professional journals you find through Penn State Libraries will have a built in function to properly cite the article. Citation help can also be found under the “Research” tab at the University Libraries home page.
  • It is also handy to have some software assistance for sources found outside University Libraries. I use Zotero which conveniently compiles my sources in a folder and properly cites them for referencing. It is user friendly and free.

Good luck on your next paper. I wish you the best in sorting through the sea of resource possibilities and hope these few tips will be of benefit.

“I keep bumping into that silly quotation attributed to me that says 640K of memory is enough. There’s never a citation; the quotation just floats like a rumor, repeated again and again.” –Bill Gates