Before you begin your search, it is important to know that sources are divided into two categories: primary and secondary sources. Primary sources include original documents created by an author or group of authors such as historical documents, literary works, or lab reports. They also include any field research you conduct on your own such as interviews, experiments, or surveys. Secondary sources are sources written about primary sources and include scholarly books and articles, reviews, biographies, and textbooks.
Most often in academic writing, you will want to consult secondary sources along with any primary sources available. A popular source is meant for a general audience. Popular sources include newspaper and magazine articles, your Yahoo or Google newsfeed, and blogs. A scholarly source would be one that has been written by a professional in the field; the author may hold a doctoral degree or have a great amount of expertise in the field you are studying. Oftentimes, an author’s credentials will be listed as a footnote within the source, but if not, an Internet search may reveal whether the writer can be determined to be a scholarly author or one that has done a vast amount of research on the topic. The author of the source will always be an important consideration, as your view of the quality of the article may change depending upon the author's credibility. In addition, you must ask yourself whether your source is popular or scholarly, and be sure to meet any requirements the project demands regarding source types.
In many fields, there will be a number of academic journals, periodicals and organizations that publish scholarly articles related to the subject. By discovering and accessing these journals, you can be sure that the piece from which you are quoting is a scholarly source. Many colleges and universities pay fees in order to provide their students with access to these journals in their electronic form, and an even greater number of university libraries will shelve current and back issues of these journals.
Furthermore, conducting an Internet search of these journals and articles may prove fruitful. Search engines such as Google offer the option of searching “Google Scholar” in order to access only these scholarly articles. Finding these sources online, depending on the journal and the site, may require that you pay a fee to view the article. This is where university libraries come in handy, as they offer free access to the same materials. If you cannot access a university library, some clever hunting of the Internet may still yield what you are looking for at no cost.
Popular scholarly databases include:
- Academic Search Premier
- Academic OneFile
- Opposing Viewpoints in Context
- CQ Researcher
...and a large number of other options depending on your field of study.