Deciding on the Number of Research Paper Sources

Once you have chosen a topic, your next step is finding research paper sources. Finding suitable sources requires you to evaluate sources and spend a significant amount of time researching and reading for information. However, before you start the actual research process, you need to have an idea of the minimum number of sources needed to write an effective paper.

Determining the number of research paper sources

The first place to look when determining the number of research paper sources you need is the assignment instructions. Much of the time, instructors specify a minimum number of sources you must use for the required page length.

When the number of research paper sources is not specified in assignment instructions, there is no official or set number of sources to use. However, there are several rules of thumb you can use to guide the decision-making process.

  • For a 10-15 page paper, five to eight sources is a good range to select. When selecting research paper sources, you want to have enough to present supporting evidence to back up your argument, but not too many that your own thoughts and ideas are overtaken by them.

  • If your paper is assigned a particular word count, you can determine the number of research paper sources by dividing the first two numbers of the word count by two. For example, if your paper is required to be 2000 words in length, you would divide 20 (the first two numbers) by two to end up with 10 minimum sources.

Finding a specific number of research paper sources

Once you have determined the number of research paper topics to use, you can start searching for them. Keep in mind that you are likely to look at many, many more sources than the actual number you use. If you need 10 sources, for example, you are probably going to read through 20-25 sources before you find 10 that credible and scholarly. As you sift through and read sources, you can minimize the time you spend reading through each by reading with purpose, scanning and paying attention to subheadings.

Ultimately, you want sources that support your thesis statement, and ones that you intend to actually use in the paper. If you do not intend to use direct or indirect quotations from a source, do not count it in your total number of sources.

However many research paper sources you are required to use or decide to use on your own, make sure you evaluate sources, and develop good note-taking strategies to save yourself time and frustration when it is time to start an outline or write your rough draft.