As you work with particular sources, be sure you are analyzing the source itself to understand why it was written or created, who wrote it, what their expertise is, and who the intended audience is. These kinds of questions help you figure out if you're using the appropriate sources for any given information task. Use the information below to reflect further on your sources:
Sources have different functions (BEAM)
There are different authors of information
There are different audiences for publications
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.
Though many databases let you limit a search to scholarly or peer reviewed 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.
Peer review means the source has been reviewed prior to publication (usually without the reviewers knowing who wrote the source and vice versa); reviewers will then recommend if the work should be published. Many - but not all - scholarly sources have been peer reviewed. To check if your scholarly article has been peer reviewed, you can visit the journal's website.
Is it scholarly?
Often you will be expected to use "scholarly" or "peer-reviewed" or "academic" sources. How can you tell whether a source is scholarly?
Is it primary? secondary?
You may be asked to use "primary” or “secondary” scholarly sources. How can you tell whether a source is primary or secondary?
Examples to consider:
The term "primary source" is defined differently by various disciplines. In the humanities, a primary source is a historical document, such as a diary, memoir, a work of art, a news account published when an event was fresh - something from the historical period under examination. In the sciences, a primary source is a scientist's write-up of their research that includes their methods and results, as opposed to science journalism or a summary of research (a "review article") that has been conducted to provide an overview of research on a given topic.
A secondary source is one that has already been analyzed by someone else. Moving even further from the unfiltered event is a tertiary source such as a textbook or encyclopedia, that summarizes knowledge in general terms.
Using primary sources, whether in science or the humanities, helps a researcher get as close as possible to the subject under examination. Using primary sources can be a good way to point your reader to the raw materials of your ideas and provide an opportunity for you to do your own, original analysis.
For more about primary sources, check out our guide to primary sources available in our library.