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HES 300: Research Presentation in Health & Exercise Science.: Selecting Sources

Skimming Sources

As you decide which sources to look at more closely think about these ideas.

  • Is it current enough? Use the year of publication on the call number or in a database to help narrow your options.
  • Is it scholarly enough - but not too technical? When looking through articles with abstracts in a database, skim the abstract to see if at least some of the article is understandable. Focus first on the first and last lines of the abstract, then look more closely if it seems interesting. When looking at magazine and newspaper articles, check the length. If it's less than 400 words or one page or less, it may be too insubstantial to be very helpful.
  • Is at least part of the source of interest? When you see a book on the shelf that has potential, take it off the shelf and skim the table of contents. Or, if you have a specific enough subject, see if it's covered in the index. You don't have to read a book in its entirety to find the good bits.

Be sure you do some skimming before you print anything off or haul books back to your dorm room. Quite often, a source that seems to be exactly on your topic turns out to be not very helpful after all. You don't want to discover that when you're sitting down to write a paper that's due tomorrow.

Scholarly? Popular?

Quite often you will be expected to use "scholarly" or "peer-reviewed" 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.

One of the reasons Gustavus requires at least one Writing in the Disciplines (WRITD) courses is because styles are different for in different majors. Scholarly sources do not all look the same. Scholarly articles in history are usually longer than those in physics journals. Articles in chemistry often have color illustrations and their journals carry advertising, but you won't find many color illustrations or advertisements in literary criticism journals. In sociology and psychology, articles almost always have abstracts, but you rarely see them in art history or religion articles. Though they look different, all fundamentally are the work of scholars reporting their findings to extend what we know about the world.

Tracing Cited Sources

One of the most powerful ways to find valuable sources and assess their signifcance is to follow the breadcrumb trail left by scholars in their published work. When researchers cite sources, they are bolstering their argument by providing evidence, but also pointing readers to places they can go for more information. Take them up on it!

In addition to references in books and articles, the bibliographies found in specialized reference works will point you to the most significant research on a topic, an efficient shortcut to the best stuff.

Once you see a reference that looks good, how do you get your hands on it? Here's a quick checklist.

  • Is the reference to a book? Search the title of the book in the library catalog.
  • Is the reference to a chapter or essay in a book? Check the book title in the library catalog (not the title of the essay).
  • Is the reference to a journal article? Search for the title of the journal in the Journals List (not the title of the article).
  • Did you strike out? Request it through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Not sure what it is? Ask at the reference desk.
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