In institutions of higher learning, research papers are among the most significant forms of testing students’ academic milestones. To obtain a college degree, students must write several research papers to prove their understanding of the course content or material.
To get the best answer for the best number of sources for essays, we asked some of our top essay writers to give their views. This article summarizes some of their views and their input on the issue.
Basically, as the name suggests, research papers require a lot of research to prove or validate the arguments presented. Therefore, students are required to carefully select credible and peer-reviewed sources of information to use as reference material.
Now, this issue raises the question of how many sources are required for a research paper. In most cases, instructors do not provide the exact number of sources to be used in research papers and this causes a lot of confusion to students.
A research paper should have a minimum number of sources as the number of its pages to match the length of the paper to the quality of its content.
This means that a 3-page paper needs to have at least 3 sources. While the number of sources depends on many factors, our top writers advise that this is the best way to match the quantity to the quality.
Since sources are a mandatory component of a research paper, students may be tempted to use as many sources as possible to impress their instructor or show their vast knowledge in the course.
On the other hand, some students may use a few sources to avoid delving too much into the research process. Because of this, students submit research papers with either too many unnecessary or insufficient sources.
To avoid such disparities, this article will tackle the question of the number of sources required for a research paper. However, it is important first to explore the different factors that determine the number of sources for a research paper.
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Factors that Determine the Number of Sources for a Research Paper
As discussed above, students must use sources for their research papers because those sources prove the arguments’ credibility.
While using sources in a research paper, there are several factors affecting the number of citations that you should always consider when determining the number of sources to be used.
Such factors should act as the standard guideline to help you employ the appropriate number of sources in any research paper.
1. The Length of the paper
This is one of the most important determiners of the number of sources for a research paper. When instructors give their students a research paper to tackle, they will always provide the required pages or a word count limit.
Some research papers will be longer than others depending on the word count limit or the required page number. The most important thing to note here is that the longer the research paper, the more the number of sources will be required.
The shorter the paper, the fewer the number of sources. However, as we shall discuss later, a short research paper may require more sources depending on factors like the depth of the topic.
Ideally, a longer paper will have more content regarding claims to support the thesis statement and the arguments to support the claims. Because of this, students will be required to use more sources to prove the credibility of those claims.
For example, imagine you have been given a 10-page research paper to tackle. In such a paper, you will have several body paragraphs that contain individual claims that must be supported by evidence from credible sources within each paragraph.
In such a case, you will have several sources. On the other hand, imagine you are told to write a research paper on the same topic, but the page limit is 5. Here, you will have fewer body paragraphs and, therefore, fewer sources. Simply put, the longer the research paper, the more the sources and vice versa.
2. Teacher’s instructions
This is also an equally important factor in determining the number of sources for a research paper. As noted, instructors will always specify the page limit or the word count limit for a research paper.
However, not all instructors will specify the number of sources required for such a paper. Though this may be the case, some instructors will be very specific about the number of sources required for research papers.
If your instructor has specified the number of sources to be used, it is best to adhere to such instructions because failure to do so will guarantee academic penalties.
The reason why teachers specify the number of sources to be used can be attributed to the fact that not many students appreciate the research process when finding credible sources.
By specifying the number of sources, teachers encourage their students to employ research techniques to find the most appropriate sources of information. Again, some students tend to avoid citing sources in their research papers because it is a process by itself.
A particular criterion is used to reference and cite sources in research papers. Therefore, when teachers specify the number of sources to be used, they encourage students to learn the process of referencing and citing sources.
3. The Depth of the Topic
The depth of the topic is an important determiner of the number of sources for a research paper. No matter how short or long a research paper is, the depth of its topic will determine the number of sources.
Some research topics will not require too much research, while others will require a lot of research to support the claims or arguments.
If the topic is not complex, you will not have to conduct a lot of research, so the number of sources will be fewer.
On the other hand, if the topic is deep, you will be required to conduct a lot of research to uncover valid supporting arguments for your claims.
You will use several sources to support your arguments in such a case. In short, the more intricate or deep the topic is, the more sources are required, and vice versa.
4. The Technicality of the Topic
The technicality of the topic is yet another factor that determines the number of sources for a research paper. Technical research papers often require more sources compared to less technical papers.
This is because technical papers require more research to prove the methodologies employed to come up with the findings or to prove the arguments presented. For example, imagine a research topic concerning the effectiveness of the current propulsion system in jet engines.
In such a research paper, you will either argue that the current propulsion system is effective or ineffective. To prove either of the stands, you will have to use several sources to validate your arguments.
5. Data and statistics
Applying data and statistics in a research paper will increase the sources used. Data and statistics are used to provide quantifiable evidence for a certain claim.
Therefore, it is important always to cite the sources of data and statistics to validate your argument.
For example, if you state in your paper that 70% of students in American colleges dislike the process of writing research papers, you will have to cite the source of such statistics because that is a specific claim.
Unless you have personally conducted the primary research through questionnaires, surveys, and so on, you should always cite the source of such data and statistics.
6. Institutional Requirements
Some institutions have specific guidelines that predetermine the number of sources that should be used for research papers. In such a case, students’ level of study dictates the number of sources that should be cited in a research paper.
In some institutions, undergraduate students may be required only to use 10 sources in research papers, while other institutions may require more.
Some institutions will often require students to match the number of sources to the page count of their research papers. For example, if a research paper is 5 pages, then the number of sources will be 5, and so on.
7. Personal Preference
This especially applies to cases where neither the instructor nor the institution has specified the number of sources for a research paper.
Here, students are expected to determine the number of sources to use depending on their preference or subjective interpretation of their paper’s requirements.
Because of this, students should always acknowledge the sources by appropriately citing them in the research paper, failure to which the paper will have been plagiarized.
Where to get the Sources for a Research Paper
There are several avenues to get the sources for a research paper. The first and most basic avenue is search engines. Search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Google are good places to start looking for sources for your research paper. Here, you will find various sources of information about your topic.
Since search engines will provide a lot of sources, it is important to select the most relevant and credible sources of information.
Always select peer-reviewed sources and avoid blogs and Wikipedia.
Blogs mostly provide subjective interpretations of information, while Wikipedia allows multiple users to edit, thus reducing its credibility.
However, Wikipedia is a great place to gather general information about your topic.
Online scholarly databases are another important avenue to get the sources for a research paper. Such sources include Google Scholar, InfoTrac, EBSCO, LexisNexis, etc.
Those databases provide thousands of scholarly sources that can be used in your research paper. You can get the latest sources in online scholarly databases.
Magazines and newspapers also provide a rich source of information for your research paper. For example, if you are writing a research paper centered on current affairs, newspapers, and magazines can be valuable sources of information.
Today, digital versions of newspapers and magazines can be easily accessed through online platforms. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and so on are examples of such avenues of current information.
Finally, the library is a valuable avenue to get sources for your research paper. The reason why some students overlook the library as a source of information is that they find looking for sources on online platforms to be more convenient. However, libraries can offer some of the best sources of information for your research paper.
How to Determine the Credibility of Sources for a Research Paper
The most prevalent criterion used to determine the credibility of sources for a research paper is the CRAAP test. This test evaluates the qualities of a source based on its Currency, Relevance (coverage), Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose (objectivity).
The currency of a source is determined by the date it was published. The publishing date for a source should be current because the information it provides will be current.
Older sources may have outdated arguments proven otherwise by current sources. The source should also be relevant to your topic. It should adequately cover your topic’s needs.
Authority means the credentials of the source’s author that grant them the right to write the material. This includes their knowledge and expertise on the subject, the level of their education, and the years of practice in their respective disciplines.
Accuracy is very important because it determines whether the source provides accurate information or verifiable information.
Finally, the Purpose or the objectivity of the source is very important in determining the credibility of a source. Why did the author write the source, and how useful is the source’s information to your paper?
You can read our tips on how to find credible research paper sources for your paper or essays. This will give you more insight into the websites and books to check.
How old should your Sources/References be?
Your sources/references should not be older than 6 years. This means that if you are writing a research paper in the year 2020, then your sources/references should have been published from 2014 to 2020.
Though this is the case for most research papers, the type of paper will determine how old your paper sources are as the references. Some papers will not allow sources older than 4 years, especially in the literature review, while others will allow older sources.
For example, research papers on historical issues can use very old sources because specific historical events cannot be changed through research.
The first and the second world wars happened and they cannot be altered. In such cases, you can use older sources. However, most research papers will use sources not older than 6 years.
How many Sources for a 20-page paper
As aforementioned, different factors determine the number of sources in a research paper. However, the general rule for a normal 20-page paper is that it will require 20 sources.
This is determined by the page count, where the number of sources is directly proportional to the page count. If the 20-page paper covers a complex or deep topic, the sources can be as many as 40.
If the 20-page research paper uses a lot of data and statistics, the sources can be as many as 50. However, an ordinary 20-page paper should have a minimum of 20 sources.
How many sources for a 5-page paper
The general rule determining the number of sources for a paper is that an ordinary double-spaced page requires one source, and the sources increase as the page count increases.
Therefore, a 5-page paper will have a minimum of 5 sources. However, a 5-page paper with a complex topic may require more sources. Though this is the case, a 5-page paper should have a minimum of 5 sources.
How many sources for a 10-page paper
A 10-page paper will have a minimum of 10 sources if the paper’s topic is not very complex or the paper does not employ data and statistics.
10 sources for a college-level 10-page paper would be sufficient enough to provide credible information to support the arguments presented in the paper. As we had written in our guide on writing research papers, using good sources is important for a paper to be quality. Check the guide out and learn more.
Jessica Kasen is experienced in academic writing and academic assistance. She is well versed in academia and has a master’s degree in education. Kasen consults with us in helping students improve their grades. She also oversights the quality of work done by our writers.