To Answer Your Research Question

You have to be much more picky with sources to meet this need because only certain choices can do the job. Whether you can use quantitative or qualitative data depends on what your research question itself calls for. Only primary and secondary sources can be used to answer your research question and, in addition, those need to be professional and/or scholarly sources for most disciplines (humanities, social sciences, and sciences). But the arts often accept popular sources as primary or secondary sources to answer research questions. Also, the author’s purpose for most disciplines should be to educate and inform or, for the arts, to entertain and perhaps even to sell.

As you may remember, primary sources are those created at the same time as an event you are researching or that offer something original, such as an original performance or a journal article reporting original research. Secondary sources analyze or otherwise react to primary and secondary sources. Because of the information cycle, the latest secondary sources are often the best because their creators’ have had time for better analysis and more information to incorporate.

EXAMPLE: Quantitative or Qualitative Data

Suppose your research question is “How did the previous king of Saudi Arabia (King Abdullah) work to modernize his country?”

That question may lend itself to qualitative descriptive judgments—about what are considered the components of modernization, including, for instance, what were his thoughts about the place of women in society.

But it may also be helped by some quantitative data, such as those that would let you compare the numbers of women attending higher education when Abdullah became king and those attending at the time of his death and whether manufacturing increased while he reigned.

So looking for sources that provide both quantitative and qualitative information (not necessarily in the same resource) is usually a good idea.

If it is not clear to you from the formats of sources you are assigned to read for your course, ask your writing professor or professors in your field of study which formats are acceptable to your discipline for answering your research question.

Resources to Answer Your Research Question

  • Quantitative or Qualitative: Will be determined by the question itself
  • Fact or Opinion: Professional and scholarly for most disciplines; the arts often use popular, as well
  • Scholarly, Professional, or Popular: Professional and scholarly for most disciplines; the arts often use popular, as well
  • Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary: Primary and secondary
  • Publication Format: Those acceptable to your discipline