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Getting Started: Research

Choosing the Best Resources - Watch the Video

Differences Between Types of Resources

It can be tough to decide what type of resources to use to complete an assignment. You have to choose between books, scholarly articles, popular articles, and web pages. 

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Books provide in-depth information about a topic and are usually great sources for research; however, you may not always want to use books.

ProsContent in books has been reviewed by editors and all books available at MATC Libraries have been selected by professional librarians. Information found in books at the libraries is usually very reliable.

ConsThe publishing process for books takes time, so they are not always the best sources for current events and hot topics.

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Scholarly Journals (Articles)

Scholarly articles are primary resources for academic assignments and often provide very specific information on a topic.

ProsThe articles in scholarly journals go through a peer review process, which means they have been checked over and given a stamp of approval by experts and scholars of a field.

ConsArticles in scholarly articles are not geared toward general interests; they are more focused on academic topics. Also, the peer review process takes time, so scholarly articles are not always the best sources for current events. 

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Popular Articles

Popular articles provide information geared toward general interests and current events.

ProsPopular articles are great sources of information on current events, news, trends, and hot topics. Since articles in magazines and newspapers have to be approved by an editor, they are usually more reliable than information found on Web sites.

ConsArticles from popular magazines have not undergone a peer review process and are not backed by intensive research. Popular articles do not usually include a list of references so it can be difficult to find out where the author found their information. They are typically written by journalists who are not subject matter experts or researchers, and because they are written for a general audience, they can contain bias. 

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Web Sites

The web allows you to access most types of information on the Internet through a browser. One of the main features of the Web is the ability to quickly link to other related information. Web sites contain information beyond plain text, including sounds, images and video. 

ProsProvide current information about events, news, and trends. A lot of government websites, think tanks, and special interest organizations post statistics, reports, and articles to the Web.

ConsAnyone can publish to the Web, information found on Web sites is very often biased or inaccurate. It can be difficult to determine the quality of information found on the Web - you have to work harder to scrutinize it. Scholarly information is rarely available for free on the open Web.

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary Sources 

A primary source is an original object or document -- the raw material or first-hand information. Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. They are factual, not interpretive, and include sources such as historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and art objects. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often empirical studies -- research where an experiment was done or a direct observation was made. The results of empirical studies are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences, so those articles and papers that present the original results are considered primary sources.

Original, first-hand account of an event or time period -- Autobiographies, diaries, e-mail, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photographs, raw research data, speeches

Original, creative writing or works of art -- Art, drama, films, music, novels, poetry

Report of scientific discoveries or results of experiments -- Published results of research studies, Published results of scientific experiments, Published results of clinical trials


Secondary Sources

A secondary source is something written about a primary source. Secondary sources include comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the original material. You can think of secondary sources as second-hand information. If I tell you something, I am the primary source. If you tell someone else what I told you, you are the secondary source. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

Second-hand account of a historical event - Biographies, histories, newspaper articles that interpret

Interprets creative work - Literary criticism; book, art, and theater reviews

Analyzes and interprets research results or scientific discoveries - Publications about the significance of research or experiments, analysis of a clinical trial, review of the results of several experiments or trials

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