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Primary & Secondary Sources
Distinguishing between primary and secondary sources is an important first step in scholary research. As critical inquiry is essential to solid, accurate research, scholars need to know the difference. According to the Society of American Archivists, primary sources are defined as "material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness."
The SAA also defines secondary resources as "works not based on direct observation of or evidence directly associated with the subject, but instead relying on sources of information", as well as "works commenting on another work (primary sources), such as reviews, criticism, and commentaries."
The American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association has a detailed guide discussing the use of primary sources in research. Princeton University also provides a comparative overview of primary and secondary resources to aid in distinguishing between the two.
Just a couple of titles listed in our collection related to the research process.
Information Now by Every day researchers face an onslaught of irrelevant, inaccurate, and sometimes insidious information. While new technologies provide powerful tools for accessing knowledge, not all information is created equal. Valuable information may be tucked away on a shelf, buried on the hundredth page of search results, or hidden behind digital barriers. With so many obstacles to effective research, it is vital that higher education students master the art of inquiry. Information Now is an innovative approach to information literacy that will reinvent the way college students think about research. Instead of the typical textbook format, it uses illustrations, humor, and reflective exercises to teach students how to become savvy researchers. Students will learn how to evaluate information, to incorporate it into their existing knowledge base, to wield it effectively, and to understand the ethical issues surrounding its use. Written by two library professionals, it incorporates concepts and skills drawn from the Association of College and Research Libraries' Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education and their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Thoroughly researched and highly engaging, Information Now offers the tools that students need to become powerful consumers and creators of information. Whether used by a high school student tackling a big paper, an undergrad facing the newness of a university library, or a writer wanting to go beyond Google, Information Now is a powerful tool for any researcher's arsenal.
Publication Date: 2015-10-26
Research Strategies by Online resources have given us access to more knowledge than ever before. We're buried in data, and defining what is and what is not genuine information becomes more of a challenge all the time. In this fifth edition of Research Strategies, author William Badke helps you make sense of all of the available information, shows you how to navigate and discern it, and details how to use it to your advantage to become a better researcher. Badke focuses on informational research and provides a host of tips and advice not only for conducting research, but also for everything from finding a topic to writing an outline to documenting resources and polishing the final draft. Study guides, practice exercises, and assignments at the end of each chapter help reinforce each lesson. An experienced research instructor who has led thousands of students to become better researchers, Badke uses humor to help you gain a better understanding of today's complex, technological world. Research Strategies provides the skills and strategies to efficiently and effectively complete a research project from topic to finished product. It shows how research can be exciting and even fun.
Publication Date: 2014-01-16
Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age by One of the most perplexing aspects of research today is what to do when there's too much information on a topic. What then of the librarian, charged with teaching new generations to appreciate the search for intellectual wheat, especially when the chaff has greater appeal? The key, suggests Leslie Stebbins, is to impress upon students the importance of good filtering instincts and careful management of search results. At the same time, it is equally essential to impress upon them the particular challenges and controversies that accompany research in a digital environment. Chapter one provides a step-by-step introduction to both research and critical evaluation that can be followed for any assignment. Chapters two through seven focus on specific types of information resources: when to use them, where to find them, and how to evaluate them. Chapter eight offers guidance on how to develop a note-taking system, cite sources, avoid plagiarism, and organize references. Students and librarians alike will benefit from Stebbin's suggestions, strategies and straightforward examples.
Publication Date: 2005-12-01
They Say / I Say by "They Say / I Say" demystifies academic discourse and shows students that writing well means mastering some key rhetorical moves--the most important of which is to summarize what others have said ("they say") in order to set up one's own argument ("I say"). Students learn that writing is always part of a larger conversation, and the book provides templates to show students how to bring their own views in conversation with those expressed by others.
Publication Date: 2014-03-24
Starting the Research Process
Although good research takes time, it doesn't have to be difficult if time is taken to prepare. Here is a brief overview of the process.
- Think about your topic. Identify the main concept, then outline the related keywords.
- Narrow your topic. Concentrate on a particular aspect and keep your focus reasonable. Try using some mind mapping exercises to help focus your topic.
- Determine the scope of the focus. That is, how much content will be required to reasonably cover this aspect.
- Select and evaluate the appropriate sources:
- Reference sources (dictionaries/encyclopedias) - these are excellent tools to find the basic background information.
- Library catalogs - Collections of sources in different disciplines.
- Electronic databases - scholarly and popular/current event collections of periodicals of increasing specificity, providing access to full-text articles and/or citation information.
- Internet Search Directories - Google, Yahoo!, etc.
- Retrieve, examine, and organize (even delete) content - synthesize your information.
- Evaluate - Examine your findings critically, deleting unnecessary content falling outside your scope.
- Repeat the process.
Thinking Critically about Thinking
Developing ideas for focused study is difficult. Trying to understand how we as individuals think may help in developing patterns of successful information retrieval and processing. Use the Elements of Thought diagram to better understand the underlying mental processes and essential questions for critical thought.
Evaluating Web Content Critically - CRAAP Test
Conducting research is a critical process, no matter how trusted the source may be. Use the following criteria for evaluating the validity of Internet content:
- Authority & Authorship - Is there a clearly defined author of the content, and if so, what are his or her credentials? Is there an "About" section listed on the site? Can the authors be contacted?
- Bias - Is there a pursuit of objectivity in the content that is presented? Or is there a noticeable bias or implicit agenda on the part of the author(s) that is discernible?
- Relevancy - Is the content current enough or even pertinent to the subject to support the claims of the authors? How often is the content updated?
- Accuracy - Are the proposed conclusions verifiable from the data presented? Is any data and accompanying references presented? Can fact be adequately separated from opinion?
Also known as the CRAAP Test for evaluating information, use this set of criteria to maintain a critical focus on whatever sources are used in your research.
Other considerations for evaluation:
- What is the domain of the site's URL (.com,.edu,.org,.net,.gov)?
- Are there numerous broken links across the site?
- Are there advertisements on the page which may promote an agenda?
- Does the site rely too heavily on extra, downloadable software?
Other helpful sites
Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask - University of California, Berkeley
Evaluating Information Found on the Internet - Johns Hopkins University
The Information Timeline
One helpful way to understand which source to use when starting a research project is to think about the timeline in which events unfold, and the sources in which they are published along the timeline.
When events occur, information is disseminated almost immediately by social media and popular news sites across the internet, and television. Newspapers will then offer more detailed accounts of the event. After a week, a more detailed analysis of the event will take place in formats such as magazines. After about a month, subject-specific scholarly journals will publish articles by academic professionals providing a more thorough summary and historical synopsis of the event. In approximately a year, books will be published describing the event. Finally, after years of analysis, reference sources (encyclopedias, handbooks, etc.) publish a more complete history and evaluation of the event.
The University of Arizona provides an excellent (and brief) interactive tutorial of the Information Timeline. Temple University Libraries also provide a thorough explanation of the concept.
Information Timeline: From an Event to a Book (University of Arizona Libraries)
The Information Cycle (University of Illinois Libraries)