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Getting Started with Research at Shapiro Library

This guide discusses understanding information sources, formulating a topic and search phrase, where and how to search the library for information, how to evaluate sources, how to cite sources, and more.

Understanding Information

What is Information?

"1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; 2. knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc." (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/information)

Information includes both facts and opinions. We are constantly bombarded by information through television, the Internet, newspapers, billboards, conversations, etc. What is important is how we use information and how it becomes meaningful to us. Check out the video below for more on this topic:

The Information Cycle

When events occur or news stories come out, information about the event or story are created and change over time. The Information Cycle refers to the process by which information is created, disseminated, and changed over time--from the time of the event or story to the next day, week, or years to come. Understanding the information cycle is critical to recognizing the accuracy, authoritativeness, currency, etc. of the information you find and may help you understand what information is available on a particular topic. Check out the video below for more information:

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

What are Sources?

"1. someone or something that provides what is wanted or needed; 2. the cause of something (such as a problem) 3. a person, book, etc., that gives information" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/source)

In academic writing, sources are the materials from which the writer gathers information. It is important that you evaluate the sources of your information to be sure that each source is accurate, relevant, current, objective, and authoritative. For more information on evaluating resources, visit the Evaluating Resources page.

When researching a topic, you need to investigate a variety of sources to gather information. This may include:

  • Books
  • Reference Materials (dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.)
  • Periodicals (Magazines, Newspapers, Journals, etc.)
  • Websites

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

Types of Sources

You may be asked to use a number of different types of sources including Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary:

Primary Sources consist of original materials--a first-hand account of something. This information has not been filtered through interpretation. Examples of primary sources include:

  • an original journal or diary
  • a novel, poem or play
  • original notes from an experiment or original research
  • an original letter
  • a piece of artwork or furniture, musical score, or theatrical performance

Secondary Sources are written after something has happened and has the benefit of hindsight. This information includes interpretations and evaluations of primary information. Examples of secondary sources include:

  • a critique of a poem, play, or piece of literature
  • a history book based on primary historical sources
  • a scientific report based on experimental notes
  • commentaries and criticisms
  • biographical works

Tertiary Sources are a distillation and collection of primary and secondary information. They usually include or are based on a range of secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include:

  • almanacs
  • fact books
  • encyclopedias
  • chronologies
  • guidebooks
  • manuals
  • directories

Check out these videos for more information:

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources

What's the different between scholarly and popular sources? Watch this video to find out:

Are All Library Resources Scholarly?

No, not all resources you'll find at the library are scholarly.

In many cases, the books you get from the library and articles you find in the library's research databases are scholarly. These sources have often gone through a traditional editorial or peer review process, which means that someone or some group has checked all the facts and arguments the author made and deemed them suitable for publishing. However, you still have to think about whether the book or article is current, objective, and relevant enough for your research.

The library does subscribe to some non-scholarly publications such as popular magazines like People, Vogue, and Ebony. Some library databases include non-scholarly publications like newspapers and trade magazines as well so no matter where you're searching for information you should always evaluate your sources for their relevancy, currency, objectiveness, authoritativeness, and accuracy. 

Check out the video below for more information:

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

What are Peer Reviewed Journals?

"Many scholarly journals use a process of peer review prior to publishing an article, whereby other scholars in the author's field or specialty critically assess a draft of the article. Peer-reviewed journals (also called refereed journals) are scholarly journals that only publish articles that have passed through this review process. The review process helps ensure that the published articles reflect solid scholarship in their fields." Source: http://lib.calpoly.edu/research/guides/peer.html

Check out the video below for more information:

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

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