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How To: Academic Research

Use the tabs below to explore the different aspects of conducting academic research.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from Other Periodicals
(Permission received from Research & Learning Services, Olin Library, Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY to reproduce and adapt this guide for our  own use.)

Peer Review in 3 Minutes.  A brief video on how articles get peer reviewed and the role peer review plays in scholarly research and publication. (Produced by the North Carolina State University Library.)

Types of Sources

Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are first-hand or immediate accounts of a topic or event. Primary sources are what researchers analyze, themselves.
Primary sources include documents such as letters, journals, diaries, audio/video recordings, films, images/photographs, or other artifacts that provide direct evidence of an event or topic. Books and other writings can also be primary sources, depending on their use or the purpose of your research.

When do you use primary sources?

Primary sources are especially important in historical and biographical research; they are the base for answering research questions. They are extremely useful when comparing different scholarly opinions and/or conclusions about the source or person that created it. 

Secondary Sources

What is a secondary source?

A secondary source is one that is an intermediary between the primary source and the researcher. It offers an analysis, opinion, or conclusions about the subject at hand. 

Secondary sources include articles, books, documentary films, etc.

When do you use secondary sources?

Secondary sources are used to understand the ways in which scholars and researchers have approached and analyzed primary sources. These are the types of sources that are most often used in an academic setting.

Tertiary Sources

What is a tertiary source?

Tertiary sources are those that compile and present other sources in a summary or list. They generally do not offer analysis or introspection, rather they present facts or overview information. 

Examples of these sources are dictionaries, bibliographies, guidebooks, manuals, directories, almanacs, and encyclopedias, including sites like Wikipedia.

When do you use tertiary sources?

These are great resources to use throughout the research process to gather facts or information to compare and consider. They provide a good overview or summary, but are not used to support academic analyses, in general.

Other Resources