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Research Path

Scholarly versus popular

Faculty often tell students to use scholarly (or academic) sources rather than popular ones. This distinction applies most often to the use of articles found in journals, periodicals, and magazines. Many of the same distinctions apply to books. The author’s credentials, the writing style, the presence (or lack) of footnotes, and the type of publisher (university press or mass-market publishing house) should all be looked at when evaluating the quality of a particular book. 

Understanding the Peer Review Process

What is peer review? How do articles get peer reviewd? Why is peer reveiw important? 
Watch this short video from NC State University Libraries on the peer review process:
Peer Review in Three Minutes

Evaluating sources

Evaluating information found in a library database:  Many sources which were previously available only in print format are now also available electronically. In some cases, the print version has been discontinued and completely replaced by an online version. This is particularly true of databases (indexes) for locating journal articles. Those resources linked to the library web page have been chosen for their value to the curriculum. You will still need to evaluate the results of your searches, but the resources are provided through library subscriptions because of the value of the content to the campus community.

Evaluating information found on the Web:  Sites which are freely available over the web, such as those found by a search in Google, require thorough evaluation because the quality of the content can vary so widely.

Things to keep in mind when evaluating both print sources and web sites:

A selection of sources on the Web to help in evaluating Internet information:

TED talk: How to separate fact from fiction online

Primary versus secondary

Primary sources

Sometimes faculty recommend or require the use of primary sources. These are original documents related to an event or topic, including diaries and personal eyewitness accounts, interviews, speeches, creative and artistic works, and first-hand reports of events such as newspaper articles.  

Example of a primary source: 

Selected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and edited by Betty T. Bennett.
The correspondence of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley written between 1814-1850.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources analyze and comment on primary sources. These may include books or articles written by scholars who interpret past events or synthesize previous research.

Example of a secondary source: 

The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein, by Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler.
The authors' retelling and examination of the events that led Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to write Frankenstein

Both primary and secondary sources can be valuable in the sense that original data can be both examined and interpreted later by scholars and researchers.

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