Civil Rights and Education Battenfeld
Suggestions on finding evidence, using sources and developing a bibliography
Kate Turabian reminds us that “evidence is not inert stuff you pour into your paper. It is part of the act of explaining to readers why they should accept your claim” (46). I would also add that evidence should drive your thesis, and not vice versa. By the time you reach your conclusion, you may need to go back and revise your thesis based on new evidence you found.
You all have a range of fascinating questions, and your bibliographies will vary accordingly in the number and kinds of sources. Thus I am not requiring a specific number of sources or types of sources. However, you should keep these suggestions and guidelines in mind as you search for evidence and develop your bibliography.
To convince readers of your claim, you need an appropriate number of sources. This can vary, depending on your question and argument. However, keep these general guidelines in mind:
In most cases, an adequate number of sources roughly equals the number of pages in an essay. Thus, for a twelve page paper, you should have at least twelve sources in your bibliography. Note also that you can have too many sources. A ten page paper with forty sources likely contains too little original analysis.
As or more important than the number of sources in your bibliography, is the number of citations per page. Citations show that you are using the sources. With the exception of the introduction and conclusion, almost every paragraph should cite and discuss a source. Another way to think of this is to have 2-3 citations (footnote, endnote, or parenthetical reference) per page. These could be the same source, as you develop different arguments based on it, or they could be different sources. The goal is to use the sources to develop your own argument, so as with the bibliography, avoid too many citations, and long quotes.
Primary sources, defined by Turabian as “firsthand evidence,” (45) can be the most compelling and useful to a researcher, and are essential in certain fields, such as history. These could include letters, interviews, photos, court decisions, speeches, newspaper accounts, or original data, such as statistics as reported in the National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov/). Your ability to access primary sources or need for them will vary depending on your project, but strive to have at least 40% of your sources be primary sources.
Secondary sources are important to helping you as a researcher and your readers understand the topic and what others have written and concluded about it. For example, Waldo Martin’s introduction to Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents is a secondary source that discusses the legal struggle over integrated schools. Peer-reviewed secondary sources are vital to entering into a “scholarly conversation” about your research topic.
Tertiary sources, as Turabian puts it, are “thirdhand reports of what others reported in secondary reports” (45). Reference works, including Wikipedia and many websites, are tertiary sources. They are useful to get an overview of your topic, and for their bibliographies. If you read tertiary sources, include them in your bibliography, but avoid using them as citations, or to support your argument.
Given the relative importance of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources to effective research and writing, a reasonable ratio for your bibliography is a mix of 40-60% primary and secondary sources and 0 to at most 20% tertiary sources.
Citation and bibliography format vary according to academic field/discipline. Since this class and your topics are interdisciplinary, you may choose whether you use Chicago style (history and other qualitative humanities fields), MLA (literature), or APA (more quantitative social sciences). What’s most important is that you are consistent, and format according to the rules of the style you choose. See Turabian chapters 17-20 for detailed guidelines, and ask me if you have questions about this or any aspect of using and citing evidence.
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