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They Say, I Say: Selecting Sources

Selecting Sources with TSIS

The approaches in this guide, based on "They Say, I Say" (TSIS), can help you understand and work with information sources as a process of give and take -- a conversation in which something important is at stake -- both between the sources and you, and between you and your reader.

Consider these criteria to select the best sources for your project:

  1. Is there something important at stake in the source that you care about?
  2. Does the source present a distinct, meaningful perspective on the issue at stake?
  3. Will using this source make you more authoritative for your audience?
  4. Does the author of the source itself use sources that 
    1. Say something important,
    2. Play a significant role in the issue, and
    3. Use other sources that support his or her authority?

Something Important Is at Stake!

Something matters. And something matters to you.

A source that is truly useful to you (and not merely giving the appearance of usefulness because it's the "right kind" of source) will be one that responds to (a) an important issue (b) in a way that matters to you.

A truly important issue is one that matters to many people.

An example: A car breaking down always matters to someone, but not usually to many people (unless they're stuck in traffic!). But a problem with a model or brand of car that causes breakdowns that affect many people (and everyone stuck in traffic) -- and especially if the breakdowns present a danger to life and property --  is important in a much broader sense, to many more people.

Therefore, research things that matter to people, and choose sources that say things that matter to a large audience. This will have the effect of making your writing interesting to more people

At the same time, you will care and therefore devote your time and energy to understanding (and solving) a problem if it also matters to you personally. Your writing will be more interesting to others because of that as well.

If the more general breakdown problem (the one that affects many people) also affects you, you will care about a solution more, and your writing will be more compelling.

The two parts of this criterion work together. The best sources satisfy both requirements. Each part by itself alone encourages you to select a source that might be a poor one for your writing project -- and selecting and using poor sources will result in a poor product.

What Makes a Source "Significant"?

The most valuable sources are those that present the most significant perspectives on what is at stake for your own project.

"Significant" here means "meaningful." 

An example: Suppose you have decided to open your own restaurant. There are many meaningful questions you'll need to answer, and each of these questions presents a perspective on the project. Those questions include:

  • Where will the restaurant be located?
  • What kind of food will you serve -- the menu?
  • What kind of atmosphere do you want to establish in your restaurant?
  • How will you finance your restaurant?

Each of these meaningful questions represents a significant perspective on opening a restaurant. There are undoubtedly others.

For controversial issues especially, there are many different meaningful perspectives to explore. (These can also be ways to limit the scope of your project -- no one can cover all perspectives.) The HCC Libraries resource called Opposing Viewpoints in Context is designed to provide information that reflects different perspectives or sides of controversial issues.


How to Become an Authority

In the past, librarians and other teachers have told new researchers that they should look for "authoritative sources." (For a brief summary of this view, see, for example, Authoritative Sources.)

The TSIS approach suggests a somewhat different perspective on authority. There's still room to talk abut authoritative sources, but now the emphasis is on how you (like all other authors) must select sources and use them in ways that contribute to your own authority.

What Makes a Source Authoritative? (Bucknell U.)

Sources, Sources, Sources: What Are Your Source's Sources?

The idea that you should select sources that are engaging and that contribute to your own thought and work is not pulled out of the air, or a rule that you should follow because an authority advises it.

Instead, the most effective sources -- those that have true authority -- are those in which their authors have also relied on other, engaging sources.

Relying on sources that also rely on other sources works to create effective texts. Using sources works because that's how we think, whether we recognize it or not. We are more confident when we know that others agree on the basis of the facts.

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