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First Year Seminar: Library Services & Resources Module: Module 2: Identifying Information Sources

This guide will help new students become oriented with library resources and services, as well as becoming acquainted with some research basics.

Identifying Information Needed












Identifying Information Sources

Information is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. And it can be created by anyone and published on the internet. This can make it difficult for you to identify the information you need and how to use it appropriately. During your years in college you will be assigned research projects and expected to locate credible information. So finding the right information sources will be critical to your research.

Information Sources To Use:

1. Basic Research Tools

  • Library catalogs - use the library's catalog to find books, periodicals and other materials the library has in its holdings or accessible in another format
  • Databases - also known as electronic resources. Databases provide access to articles on specific subjects. When you are asked to find scholarly or peer-reviewed articles databases are especially useful. You can limit your searches to full-text articles, scholarly, and peer-reviewed.
  • Search engines - use these to find websites and other internet sources. Some websites provide useful information and may be published by a credible source. But it is important to verify and evaluate before relying on the website as a credible source.
  • Reference works - are especially useful to provide background information. This should be one of the first places you start your research to get definitions, names, dates, and other useful information to use as a springboard to start your research process.

2. Scholarly versus Popular

There is a good reason why your professor will ask you to use scholarly sources. Popular publications such as magazines are not considered scholarly and are less credible. They have a flashy look, contain advertisements, gossip, trends, current events, and  written to a general audience. Their aim is to entertain or share minimal information. Articles are written by non-expert contributors like you and me. Most journals are scholarly because they contain peer-reviewed research articles written by experts and reviewed by a panel of experts in the same field before being published. Scholarly articles also contain references used by the author while popular magazine articles do not.

3. Primary versus Secondary Sources

Knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources is also a key element to fulfilling the requirements of your research assignment. Your professor may require using 5 - 10 primary sources and using a small number of secondary sources.

  • Primary Sources - these are defined as first hand accounts of an event or a discovery; original documents, artifacts, images that provide evidence created or experienced during the time being studied. In scientific research, primary sources may be a journal published by a professional entity when it disseminates new or original research or discoveries. A few examples include:
    • Diary of Anne Frank
    • Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (speech)
    • Television Interview with Ronald Reagan
    • Journal published by a professional society/organization such as the Journal of the American Chemical Society
    • Works of art
    • Patents
    • Coins, clothing, tools found at an archeological site
    • Government documents
    • Census records
  • Secondary Sources - these describe, analyze, summarize, interpret, or explain primary sources. Secondary sources are based on primary sources - written or produced after the fact. Online resources that collect, store, organize, and make information accessible is also a secondary source, such as an online encyclopedia. Examples include:
    • Biography of Anne Frank
    • Reference books such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, or handbooks
    • Magazine articles
    • Book reviews
    • Textbooks
    • Indexes and abstracts (these point you to primary sources or more secondary sources)