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ENG 144: Science and Literature: Types of Sources

Overview

For your project, you need to identify the right kinds of sources and figure out how to access them. Use the information on this page to do both!

Scholarly Sources

Quite often you will be expected to use "scholarly" or "peer-reviewed" or "academic" sources. How can you tell whether a source is scholarly? Look for these indicators.

  • The author is a scientist or scholar, not a journalist. Usually you can find some note about where the author works, and more often than not it's at a college or university.
  • The audience is other researchers, scientists, or scholars, so the language is fairly complex and assumes a level of sophistication.
  • If an article, it is fairly long. It's rare for a scholarly article to be one or two pages.
  • It includes references to the work of other researchers.

Though many databases let you limit a search to scholarly articles, those limiters aren't foolproof. As an example, they will include book reviews, which are not reporting original research. Take a look at "Anatomy of a Scholarly Article" from North Carolina State University Library.

 

Locating

Here are tips on how to located various types of sources for your project - although the biggest tip is that if you hit any roadblocks, please contact me (or any librarian) for help.

  • To find scholarly sources, your best bet is to use a library database. Try some of the recommended databases on the Articles tab on this guide.
    • Many of our databases also include non-scholarly sources (like magazine and newspaper articles). You'll need to do some more digging once you find articles to make sure you've got a scholarly source. 
    • You can also search Google scholar for academic articles, too. Be aware that Google is set up to drive you to publishers' websites, where they might ask you to pay to access the article. Never pay for an article! The Library can get it for you for free. Use the Tracking Down Materials tab above for more information.
    • Search the library catalog to find scholarly books. You can look at excerpts for many books - and in some cases, entire books - through Google Books.
  • To find newspaper articles, use ProQuest US Newsstream to search current and backfiles of most major US newspapers. Use Access World News for international papers. Both are listed under the Articles tab.
    • You can certainly Google to find newspapers but most papers have a strict paywall, meaning you'll need to pay to subscribe before you can access the papers. Instead, search the recommended databases to find the same content for free!
  • To find magazine articles, try Academic Search Premier (listed under the Articles tab).  Like with newspapers, you can use Google but you will also probably hit a paywall for most titles.
  • To explore most other sources, ask yourself who might publish the kind of source you're looking for. Possibilities are endless, anything from nonprofits to companies to governments to professional associations to individuals. The best place to start is with Google. As you sort through results, pay attention to who wrote and published the source, the intended audience, the type of source, any claims it makes, etc. Be sure you are thinking critically about the source itself and how it may or may not inform your own understanding of the topic.

Popular Sources

"Popular" sources is an old-fashioned, catch-all term for anything that isn't a scholarly source. Scholarly sources are written by experts for other experts; while those might be useful for your research, you'll also be exploring various other kinds of sources.

The audience for non-scholarly sources vary, depending on what the source is, who wrote it, and why it was written. As you navigate sources, pay attention to where they come from, who wrote them, and what the likely purpose is.

These kinds of sources can be anything from newspaper and magazine articles to press releases, policy briefs, archival materials, blog posts, Twitter feeds, etc.

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