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ANS 315: Contentious Issues in the Animal Sciences

This page is designed to help Oregon State University students in ANS 315 - Contentious Issues in the Animal Sciences.

Choosing Sources for an Academic Audience

Whenever you write anything that is intended to convince, inform, or advocate you should think about your audience, and the type(s) of sources that audience finds convincing.  For many of the papers your write in school, your audience is an academic -- a university professor.  

As a student, you have one major advantage -- your audience is readily available.  If you have questions about the types of sources they would like to see, you can (and should) ask!

This is especially true when you are writing in an unfamiliar field.  Different disciplines have different expecations when it comes to evidence. Don't assume that because you know your way around scholarly sources in one field, that another field will work the same.

Here are a few general principles to guide you: 

The goal of academic argument or discourse is inquiry.  

    • Your professor probably wants to see that you can evaluate an issue thoroughly, from multiple perspectives.  Your sources should show that you have done so. 

Inquiry means that there are always more questions.  

    • To academic audiences, the best sources are the books and articles that other people use to generate new questions and new research.  
    • If you see a source mentioned a lot by other sources -- that's probably an important source for you to consider.

Academic audiences are likely to find conclusions that are based on rigorous, carefully conducted research the most convincing.  

    • In most fields, research is primarily reported in peer-reviewed or refereed journals.  
    • In some fields, you will also find research in government publications.
    • And in some fields, particularly in the arts and humanities, you will find a lot of it in books.

The credentials and authority of the author are also important in academic discourse.

    • While it is true that anyone can do good research, someone who is affiliated with an institution known for good research will often get extra credibility.

In many fields, there is general consensus about the "best" or most important journals and publishers.  

    • Research reported through those channels is automatically given more attention.  
    • As you progress through your major, it is a good idea to find out what journals and publishers are important in your field.

Identifying and Analyzing Bias in an Academic Research Process

Are scholarly sources biased? The short answer is, yes.  The longer answer is - it depends. But many academics will tell you that every source is biased on some level!

As an college student, you are expected to:

  • Tackle complicated topics, where even experts disagree.
  • Examine these topics from many perspectives.
  • Read and engage with sources that reflect these perspectives.

To do this, you will need to use sources by authors with opinions, agendas and points of view. 

Step 1: Identify the bias

What? How?
Find out as much as you can about the author/creator/publisher of the source.
  • Examine the source.  Make a note of the author or creator's name. 
  • Make a note of the publisher or the organization responsible for the source.
  • Find the About page (on a website) or read the preface or bookflap (in a book) to figure out how the person and/or organization describes their purpose.
Do not rely on what they tell you -- do some additional research.
  • Look up the publication, author or organization in Wikipedia.
  • Google the person or organization to see if you can find others talking about them.
  • Check claims by using fact-checking sites like Politifact (for political or current event questions) or Snopes.


 Step 2. Analyze your rhetorical situation

Think about your message -- what claim(s) are you making? Example Think about your evidence -- what will help you make that claim?


Are you making a claim about a fact?


Oregon State University was founded in 1868. (Source: OSU Website)
  • Using a source that attempts to be neutral and objective (like a reference book, an encyclopedia or a dictionary) can be helpful.  
  • Use facts defined by acknowledged experts..  
  • Analyze the specific fact and determine if the bias is likely to affect how it was presented.



Are you making a claim that there is consensus around an issue?


Food safety experts agree that food must be cooked long enough and hot enough to kill harmful bacteria to be safe. (Source: USDA)
  • Use a source that is intended to provide an overview of the entire discussion or debate.  People who are strong advocates for a particular point of view may not be able to accurately describe consensus, if that consensus disgrees with their position.
  • Appeal to recognized authorities on the topic.
  • If an advocate acknowledges that they are in the minority, and that the consensus is on the "other" side -- that could be used as a reason to accept the claim. ("Even those who believe X say Y is more common...")


Are you making a claim about a specific perspective on a topic?


Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that focus on digital civil liberties, believe that real-name policies like Facebook's put certain groups at significant risk.  (Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation)
  • Use a biased source that represents/reflects that perspective if you are making a descriptive claim.  
  • Be careful -- if you are making an evaluative claim (saying a perspective is good or bad) then using a biased source without additional research is problematic.


 Step 3. Integrate your analysis into your paper or presentation

Look at the Article

Peer reviewed articles are research articles that have been evaluated and approved by other experts in the field before being accepted for publication in a journal. They almost all follow a predictable pattern and contain the following elements:

1. AUTHOR:  The author is always listed with the credentials that identify the author's expertise, such as university or research affiliation.  The author often holds a Ph.D. in the subject area of the article. Contrast this to an author who writes on many different topics (like in a magazine or newspaper).

2. LANGUAGE:  The article language tends to be formal and technical, and is particular to the discipline in which it is written.  It is geared to other researchers in the same subject.  Contrast this with popular articles that are written at an informal and basic level for easy understanding by the general public.

3.  CONTENT:  There is an abstract at the beginning of the article which summarizes the content.  The articles almost always follow the pattern of having introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, and bibliography sections. News articles, scientific letters and book reviews do not follow this pattern. 

4.  ORIGINAL DATA:  Usually, original data will be presented in charts and graphs illustrating the results of experiments. Contrast this to a news feature, which pulls together results and ideas from other researchers' work. EXCEPTION - Reviews can also be peer reviewed. While they do summarize other researchers' work, authors of a review also add their own summary and repackage the work in a new way to help demonstrate something that is original.

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Reading a scholarly article can seem daunting at first. Scholarly articles are long and have a lot of data. If you break down the article into components, it will make it easier to read and understand.

For a quick overview, click on the link below to see an example of a scholarly article and its parts.

parts of a scholarly article