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ENGL 1301 - Calderon: Before you start...

How do you know what kind of sources to look for?

Some questions to ask yourself before you start your research:

  • Do I know enough about my topic to choose meaningful search terms?
    • Reference books such as encyclopedias are useful sources for learning basics about a topic before starting your research.
  • Does it matter how old your sources are?  
    • Should you use sources dating from the beginning of time to the present? 
    • Do you only want the most current information?
  • How specific is your topic? 
    • ​Are you giving a broad overview of the topic?
    • Do you need in-depth research on the topic?
  • Who counts as a credible writer on this topic?
    • Does the writer need to be an expert in the field?  What kind of credentials will prove that this person is an expert?
    • Is it okay for the writer to be a non-expert who cites his/her sources well?

Find Background Information on Your Topic

These sources will help you find background information on your topic.  This can help you narrow your research question to a manageable size and also suggest some search terms you might use once you begin your research.

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Evaluating periodical sources

Each of these publication types have strengths and weaknesses depending on the type of information you are seeking.

  • Internet sites:
    • Potentially the most current information available.
    • Writers can be anyone.
    • Information may or may not be vetted -- you must evaluate carefully for reliability.
    • Varied publication schedule.
    • Content may be influenced by advertisers.
  • Newspapers:
    • Provides very current information.
    • Best source for local news and events.
    • Writers are usually journalists, not experts in the field.
    • Quick publication deadlines may prevent writers from guaranteeing accuracy.
    • Published daily or weekly
    • Content may be influenced by advertisers.
  • Popular magazines:
    • Geared to the popular reader, usually at a lower reading level than trade or scholarly materials.
    • Writers are usually journalists, not experts in the field.
    • Published weekly or monthly
    • Content may  be influenced by advertisers.
  • Trade publications:
    • Geared toward professionals in a certain field.
    • May contain professional association or continuing education resources
    • May contain job search resources
    • Usually published monthly
    • Ads are usually limited to products and services within the field of interest.
  • Scholarly or Peer-reviewed publications:
    • Articles are written and edited by experts in the field.
    • Higher reading level ; less attention to readability, more attention to content.
    • Slower publication rate -- Usually quarterly or biannually.
    • Citations should show which other researchers are important in this area of research.