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Proper Sources for an Historical Research Paper

Updated on December 16, 2017
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Not just any source will be good enough for a research paper. Just because a book, website, or video says what you want it to say does not mean that it should be part of your bibliography. You need to be very selective in what you use as a source in an historical research paper or anything you are reporting 'facts' about.

Choosing just any resource can hurt your credibility. You need to be seen as a credible writer. You need to have readers trust you.

The Bibliography

The purpose of a bibliography is to list your sources. The purpose of doing so is to show your readers where information was obtained and to allow verification and more in depth studies to occur of your research topic. A source that is not credible or reliable tarnishes the writer’s credibility. Therefore, extra care has to be given to your sources. Look at it as your sources are a reflection of you.

This is why the content of your bibliography is important.


Books are generally a reliable source. In years past, not just anyone could publish a book. Deep scrutiny was given to any book published either by the publisher or by the academic world. Today, that has changed. Books can be self-published. Because of this new way of getting the media into the hands of readers, thousands of books are flooding the market with little to no true editing. This can lead to bad information being published in book format and spread around.


You can use articles as sources for your research paper. They just need to be from credile sources as any of your other sources. Start with the journals supplied at your school. Look at professional and scholarly magazines.

Websites can also be used, but typically look for scholarly sites. Sometimes professors will tell you ahead of time which sites you should avoid. If anything is questionable, don't use it until you get permission.


Videos are a great resource for your paper. Again, use credible ones. YouTube has many great ones uploaded by universities, professors, and experts. Documentaries are the best for this.

Quote the video and reference it in your book. I have found some great tidbits for my papers within documentaries. Check out even the opencourseware at the larger universities.

Are They Reliable

You want to make sure that the sources you use are extremely reliable. Now, keep in mind that reliable doesn't mean only the ones you agree with. Reliability goes into what the author can stand on in their defense. Has nothing to do with their stance on a topic.

The best way to determine if a book is reliable enough to be a source for your research paper is to research the book and the author.

Check out the author. How many books has he published? What do reviews say about his work? If there are reviews written that question the validity of his work, you might want to reconsider using this source.

Check out the bibliography. If there is no bibliography, stay away from this book. How reliable are the author’s sources? If they have numerous references and many of the works are well known in the academic area, this book could be a good source.

Video clips can be sources for a research paper. The same research that you do for books should be done for video clips as anyone can post a video on the web. Who sponsored the video? Was it a well known cable channel or university? What is the reputation of the ones behind the video?

The most scrutiny should be given to anything obtained from the Internet. Literally anyone can post on the Internet, and what they put there does not have to be at all accurate. Trusting every source on the Internet is not good research practice. Look at the ones who are behind the website. If they are an academic site such as universities or sites dedicated to subject matter with well-known support, they probably are trustworthy.

Many people try to use sites that are frequented such as online encyclopedias. No encyclopedia should ever be used as a research paper source whether it is online or is hard copy. What you can do is use the bibliography of the site. Some of the online encyclopedias have their own bibliography. Use those sources to do further investigation and to possibly add to your own resources.

Do not neglect sites that contain ebooks or scanned copies of older books. This can be great when it comes to historical research papers. Sites such as, Google books, the Gutenberg project, and even the Nook and Kindle ebooks are great to find many books including primary sources.

Never take your sources for granted when compiling an historical research paper. Always treat your sources with respectfully and verify the solidity of each one of them. Remember that without sources, your paper has no solid foundation.


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