If you want your essay to receive the highest marks available you have to make an effort to evaluate the sources that you decide to include in it. You can’t simply quote something a famous historian once said without providing any context of when it was said and why. Academics don’t work within a bubble and are influenced by the society in which they live, their own life experiences and what their employers and publishers want. You therefore have to think critically about the sources you use and question how useful each source is.
It is therefore important to evaluate the sources you use in an essay if you are to provide a comprehensive and balanced answer. Obviously, you will be creating your own argument, but just because an academic says something you approve of and which corroborates the points you raise, you can’t ignore the fact that others may see the situation in a different light. Different academics utilise a range of sources and interpret them in a variety of ways and so you are probably unlikely to find much consensus on most issues. You therefore have to explore the range of views and assess the worthiness of each argument.
Your essay will look much more attractive to the person marking it if you bother to question particular sources and to determine how useful they are in helping you to answer your question. If you explore the complexities of the issue it demonstrates that you have engaged with the material you have been examining, rather than passively reading and accepting everything. It shows that you have understood what you have read and that you realise that the issue isn’t black and white, with a simple right or wrong answer.
You may decide to draw upon sources which are not from the academic domain and discover that there are some newspaper articles or Internet sources which could be useful in helping to back up the points you’re trying to make. When this is the case, you have to be even more conscious of the fact that some sources are more useful than others.
If you simply type your essay question into a search engine and find a random website that provides some interesting facts, you have to be careful to check that what you’re reading is accurate. When dealing with online sources you’re better off sticking to academic sites and high-profile, reputable ones instead of using any old website that contains no references.
Once you get used to evaluating the sources you use in your essays, you should see a significant improvement in the marks you receive, as it demonstrates you have really got to grips with what you have been studying.