The first step in finding good resources is to know what to look for. Sites like Google, Yahoo, and Wikipedia may be good for general searches, but if you want something you can cite in a scholarly paper, you need to find academic sources.
A scholarly source can be an article or book that was written by an expert in the academic field. Most are by professors or doctoral students for publication in peer-reviewed academic journals. Since the level of expertise and scrutiny is so high for these articles, they are considered to be among the best and most trustworthy sources. Most of these articles will list an author’s credentials, such as relevant degrees, other publications, or employment at a university or research institution. If an article does not, try searching for the author online to see how much expertise he or she has in the field.
|What’s in them?||Articles presenting original research or events related to a specific discipline.||Articles about current events and popular culture, opinion pieces, fiction, self-help tips.
|Who writes them?||Professors, researchers, or professionals; credentials are usually stated in article.||Staff writers or free-lancers; names or credentials often not stated.|
|Who reads them?||Scholars (professors, researchers, students) knowledgeable about a specific discipline.||General public.|
|What do they look like?||Mostly text supported by black and white figures, graphs, tables, or charts; few advertisements.||Glossy, color photographs, easy-to-read layout, plenty of advertising.|
|What are their advantages?||Articles are usually critically evaluated by experts before they can be published (peer-reviewed).
Footnotes or bibliographies support research and point to further research on a topic.
Authors describe methodology and supply data used to support research results.
|Written for non-specialists.
Timely coverage of popular topics and current events.
Provide broad overview of topics.
Good source for topics related to popular culture.
|What are their disadvantages?||Articles often use technical jargon and can be difficult for non-specialists to read.
Scholarly journals are expensive and may not be as readily available.
Research and review process take time; not as useful for current events or popular culture.
|Articles are selected by editors who may know very little about a topic.
Authors usually do not cite sources.
Published to make a profit; the line between informing and selling may be blurred.
Primary and Secondary Sources
A primary source is an original document. Primary sources can come in many different forms. In an English paper, a primary source might be the poem, play, or novel you are studying. In a history paper, it may be a historical document such as a letter, a journal, a map, the transcription of a news broadcast, or the original results of a study conducted during the time period under review. If you conduct your own field research, such as surveys, interviews, or experiments, your results would also be considered a primary source. Primary sources are valuable because they provide the researcher with the information closest to the time period or topic at hand. They also allow the writer to conduct an original analysis of the source and to draw new conclusions.
Secondary sources, by contrast, are books and articles that analyze primary sources. They are valuable because they provide other scholars’ perspectives on primary sources. You can also analyze them to see if you agree with their conclusions or not.
Most essays will use a combination of primary and secondary sources.