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Controversial Issues

Writing a debate or argumentative research paper? Here's how to get started researching controversial issues.

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Why evaluate?

Almost everyone has found bad information on the Internet at some point -- even if you didn't know it at the time. Because anyone can publish online, it's important to evaluate your sources before using them in an academic paper.

When considering a website about a particularly divisive topic, be especially aware of potential biases by the author. It might be a good idea to look for sites that look at both the pro and the con side of an issue. 

Evaluating websites

Found a website you want to use as a resource but aren't sure it's reliable? Try the PACAC method (adapted from The College Student's Research Companion, 5th ed., by Arlene R. Quaratiello with Jane Devine):

  • Purpose: The reason or reasons the item was written. To inform you about the issue? To persuade you to buy something? To entertain?
  • Authority: The qualifications of the writer. What makes him/her an expert on the topic? This can apply to both a person and an organization.
  • Currency: The time when the item was written. Is the information still true? Does your topic need only the most up-to-date information or would something a few years old be acceptable?
  • Accuracy: The absence or errors and use of reliable information. Is the information correct? Does the source make claims you can prove? Are there any spelling or grammatical errors?
  • Content: The information provided by the item. Does this source answer the questions I have? Does it contribute new or different information to my research paper?

Still aren't sure a source is reliable? Ask a librarian. We can help you evaluate a website or point you toward another credible source if necessary.

What about Wikipedia?

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Search Wikipedia:  


Wikipedia can be a good place to start your research when you know nothing about a topic. Occasionally, you can even find good sources among the References and External Links listed on Wikipedia pages -- where the Wikipedia authors found out their information.

However, it is rarely acceptable to use Wikipedia as a source in an academic paper. Ask your instructor if you are unsure.

Useful and Authoratative Links

The websites listed here have been evaluated by librarians and may provide reliable information on your topic. But always evaluate your own sources to determine whether they are trustworthy. 

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