Finding the right sources for your research can sometimes be very complex. It is important to think critically when finding sources for your class papers and projects. What constitutes a useful and relevant source depends on the nature of your assignment, your topic, the requirements of your instructor, and the field of study.
Are you required to give a short oral presentation or a brief report on your topic? If so, alll you may need is a couple of subject encyclopedia articles or topic overviews that provide broad coverage of your topic.
If you are asked to write a short response paper to a question you might have to search a few different sources. You may need to refer to encyclopedias or books to get background information and arrive at a suitable question. Then you must find relevant articles and essays to help you answer that question.
A book review is a critical analysis of the book or text in question. A book review is the reader's original response and reaction to a piece of literary work. In addition to describing basic information about the book such as author, title, publisher, copyright date, etc., the review should include the author's purpose in writing the book, the theme, the author's point of view, the organization of the book, the style, the usefulness of the Table of Contents, the impact the book had on the reader, any unusual points characteristics about the book and whether or not the reader will recommend the book to others. While it is helpful to read other reviews that may be available, the primary source of information used for writing a book review is the book itself and the review should contain your thoughts about the book, not someone else's.
If you are asked to write a literature review, you need to give an overview of the most important literature published on that topic or subject. For this, you will need to examine the scholarly literature published on that topic such as of books, journal articles, dissertations, conference proceedings, etc., and provide a description, summary and critical evaluation of each work. The goal is to contribute to the understanding and development of the topic so other scholars might benefit from your research.
Do you have to write an essay on a debatable topic? For this, you will need to consult many different secondary sources such as books, book chapters, journal and magazine articles that will provide opposing viewpoints on your topic so you examine both sides of an issue before you take your stand. You will need to find some primary sources and data to back up your arguments. You will need to search the appropriate library databases for information on your topic. Consult the references you find in scholarly journals, books and other sources. Most articles in professional journals and/or peer-reviewed research publications will normally include long lists of references. Often, these references are primary sources.
Please consult the Primary and Secondary Sources Guide for more information.
Do you have to write a long essay? This might entail using a combination of sources - encyclopedias to help you understand your topic and give you some background information, books that will explain in detail the ideas introduced in the encyclopedia and other information about your topic, magazines that will give you informational articles written for the layperson, and journals that provide original research from a scholarly perspective. Using the appropriate library databases, you need to conduct a literature review to understand the most important ideas discussed about your topic so you can write an effective paper.
Is your topic a popular subject about which much has been written? If so, you will find many resources in print and on the web. You will need to narrow your search either by time frame, by geographical location, or by a particular aspect of that topic. What aspect of the topic interests you? What aspect of the topic might interest your classmates? Sometimes asking the questions who, when, what, where, and why might help you narrow your topic.
If your topic is something that's new and emerging or if there is very little information about it, you will have to do much research to develop it further. You may need to rely on newspapers, blogs and other social media to see what people are saying and then try to find information in magazines, journals and other sources to draw your own conclusions.
Sometimes instructors may tell you how many sources and what types of sources are needed. Do you need to find scholarly or peer-reviewed sources or is it enough if you find magazine or newspaper articles? Can you use information on the web? Can you use blogs and wikis?
Scholars in the Sciences and Social Sciences are usually required to find primary articles (someone's research or findings) or empirical research articles (those that describe the original research) published in peer-reviewed journals.
In fields such as History or English, you may be permitted to use information on the internet in addition to journal and magazine articles. Whatever sources you use, it is important that you examine critically and evaluate very carefully the information that you find, especially if the information is from the internet.