A Quick Guide: Finding sources for your bibliography….when you’re in a rush

We’ve all been there – the place where you’ve procrastinated and delayed writing your paper and are left in a panic at the last minute. While you may have a fair idea about what you intend to write in your paper, in academia, papers require more than just one voice – you need to incorporate the opinions/research of others. While the go-to method for finding sources is to check your university’s online library and journal resources, it’s great to have some alternative methods for those cases when you don’t have time to sift through lengthy databases. So here is a quick guide on how to find sources last minute when you’ve all but run out of time.

1. Check your course outline: The easiest way to find relevant literature for your paper is to scour the course outline or reading list given to you at the start of the course. This usually contains all of the core literature that the lecturer thinks is most relevant to their course and assignments, so it will give you some much needed guidance.

2. Roam the library: No matter how detailed your online search is you will miss some texts (especially those who don’t put keywords in their titles). Libraries are organised by subjects, so when in a bind, head to your library and find the classification code for your topic/subject and physically leaf through the books on the shelves to find relevant texts. Trust me, spending twenty (20) minutes in front of the shelves (skimming the Table of Contents) will help you find loads of sources.

Spend some time amongst the shelves!


3. Rummage through bibliographies: Choose one of the classic texts for your field and read the bibliography. When working with bibliographies, think of the process as one in which you are creating a chain. So to start you find one core text and go to its bibliography, you pull out two relevant texts and then check their bibliographies for more relevant books/readings and so on and so on. In no time you will have a list of relevant works which you can then include in your own paper.

4. Find a thesis: A lot of students never really use Masters/PhD Theses as resources but they should simply because a thesis by nature must include the core/basic information on a given topic. So go online and find a thesis on your topic and simply read the introduction, because I guarantee it will include key definitions and background data, and of course the sources can be easily identified.

5. Read the news: The great thing about newspaper articles is that they feature the most current information in bite-size and easily digestible packets. So feel free to google the news surrounding your topic, you just need to ensure that the article is published in a reputable paper or on a reliable website so that the information is considered credible when you reference it in your work.

Keep up with current affairs!


6. Ask a friend: Finally, if your friend is writing a similar essay, while you should never copy another classmate’s work, you can trade three or four sources with each other that you feel are worth reading and reviewing for your assignment. What are friends for if not helping out when you need them 🙂

I hope these tips help in those times when you’ve …. well…run out of time!

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Dr Gabi


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