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WRTG 105 What is Race: Origins, Meanings, Uses, and Discussions (Townsend)


Background sources "provide uncontested information that sets up an argument."

Background information is typically found in book introductions, article literature reviews, encyclopedia articles, and other traditional reference sources. These sources can be used to identify key terms and dates, establish commonly accepted facts and interpretations in the field, and build context around your topic and ideas. Finding good background sources can help you be strategic about your search and provide a solid foundation for your own arguments.

For example, this entry on "Racial Identity" in the Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice could be used as a Background source to help you better understand the concept of racial identity as well as commonly accepted models in the field:

Webster-Smith, Angela. "Racial Identity." Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Sherwood Thompson, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1st edition, 2014. Credo Reference, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

Looking for background sources for your topic? Try out some of these databases:


Exhibit sources "provide evidence and material for analysis or interpretation."

Exhibit sources demonstrate the points you are trying to make.  Data sets, works of literature, photographs, firsthand accounts and  personal observations, etc. can all serve as exhibits for your project.  There is no set rule about what sources can serve as exhibits...rather, exhibits are the parts of a source that you use as evidence to support your claim.  Exhibit sources can be found almost anywhere, but books and journal articles are often good starting points.

For example, this book contains first person interviews conducted with Black students at several universities - these students' personal experiences could serve as exhibits for a project focused on racial identity among college students today.

Willie, Sarah Susannah. Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race, Taylor & Francis Group, 2003. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Are you looking for a specific type of source as an exhibit? Try adding that term to your search...for instance, if you'd like a first-person account of an event, try adding the term "interview" or "observer" to the end of your search.


Argument sources "provide claims the writer engages in some way."

Argument sources allow you to insert your own voice into the scholarly conversation around a topic. Typically argument sources are things to which you can respond in your own writing or presentation. Do you agree with a particular point the author makes? Is there evidence that the author is overlooking? Do you disagree with the author's conclusion? Argument sources offer you a chance to join the discourse around a particular topic or idea.

Here's an example of an argument source.  It is an excerpt from Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, edited by Margaret L. Anderson that challenges what racial identity really means.  This source could be used to frame your own argument or counterargument about the concept of racial identity using the support of exhibit sources as evidence:

Marable, Manning. "Beyond Racial-Identity Politics." Race and Ethnicity, edited by Uma Kukathas, Greenhaven Press, 2008. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.

As with Exhibit sources, Argument sources can be found almost anywhere, but typically come from books, journal articles, and popular sources such as news stories or magazine commentaries.


Theory sources "provide a method, model, vocabulary, or approach."

Theory sources can help you identify a framework on which to build your own argument.  They can also provide insight into why certain arguments work or don't work, as well as a lens through which to critically evaluate sources.  For example, if you are interested in critical race theory, you might try to find a source that is written through the lens of critical race theory to better understand how your own argument should be structured and how other sources fit (or don't fit) the narrative.

Here's a specific example of a source.  This article uses two theories - ecological systems theory and social comparison theory to student the relationship between ethnic/racial identity and academic satisfaction.  Reading this article might give you a framework for structuring your own argument, but also help you identify key terms and concepts as well as underlying assumptions for this area of research:

Cheon, Yuen M., et al. "Daily Academic Satisfaction and ethnic/racial Identity of Asian American Adolescents: The Role of Objective and Subjective Peer Diversity at School." Asian American Journal of Psychology, vol. 11, no. 2, 2020, pp. 59-68. ProQuest,, doi:

Not sure how to start?  Try searching for your topic along with the words "theory" or "method" in the abstract - this will help you identify articles that rely on a specific structure.