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Education: Research Basics

School of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

How to use sources

Sources are the backbone of your research project. Information from sources should give you the majority of the content for your research paper or project. Sources should be located before writing a paper or starting a research project and information from sources integrated throughout your research paper or project. 

As you are working on your research project you may discard some sources and search for new ones.

Primary and Secondary Sources


Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Video produced by Bucknell University Library

Determining your project's focus

Imagine you have decided to write a research paper on bullying.  Before you start searching for information, you should first figure out what particular aspect of this topic you would like to find more information about.                                                                                                                

One way to figure out your research focus is to break down your topic by answering a few questions about it:

What? -- What behaviors constitute bullying?  (Teasing, making threats, physical attacks) 

   Who? --  Who bullies and who gets bullied? How does bullying affect the bullies, their targets, and children who witness it?

     When? -- When does bullying occur? (Pre-school, Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle, or High School)

Where? -- Where does bullying occur? (School, home, sporting or other activities)

  How? -- How does a bully choose to start bullying?; How do others react?                                                         

  Why? -- What motivates a bully? What motivates others to tolerate or stop bullying?

 Now, decide which of these areas you would like to focus on and think about some other terms that could also be used to search for this topic.  

What types of sources are available?

When you are doing research, you will need to keep in mind that there is a wide variety of resources available to use. Here is an overview what some sources are, and are not. For more details on each source, click the Finding Books, Finding Articles, or Websites tabs above.        

    Books:  These contain comprehensive information on a topic, but are not as current as the Internet or newspapers because of the time it takes for them to be published.

Books may be in print or online electronic books, or e-books, that you access through your computer. PTC Libraries has full text e-books available through the Library Catalog, click the book tab for more information on how to find and use them. Audiobooks cite an Audiobook in CD or one they downloaded through iTunes or a similar service?

Online e-books are available from other sources like Project Gutenberg and Google Books. Your instructor will tell you if you should cite a book you access through an e-book source other than the PTC Library Catalog as a book source or a website source.  

Articles: Published in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals these provide uo-to-date and primarily unbiased information about local, national, and international events and issues, as well as editorial opinion stories. A single issue of a newspapers, magazines, and academic journals may contain up to hundreds of individual articles. Databases collect articles from thousands of newspapers, magazines, and journals so you can search them electronically.

Articles from databases will count as an article source. Although many newspapers, magazines, and academic journals have accompanying websites, the content on those websites may not be the same as their published articles. If you choose to use information from a publication’s website as opposed to an article from a database your instructor will tell you if you should cite it as an article source or a website source.

Websites: Are sources that you can find using an internet search engine like Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Information featured on websites is created especially for the internet even though it may also be available in a print format as with some articles and e-books. Websites cover a wide variety of information from many different perspectives, but should particularly be evaluated for accuracy and currency. 

Although you used a computer and internet browser to access e-books and databases articles these are not considered website sources because their information was created for a published format, not a website and it often is not available through internet search engine results.

Subject Guide

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Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

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