Such exhilaration! Such consternation! Educators are fond of research papers because they require you to find your own sources, confront conflicting evidence, and synthesize diverse information and ideas—all skills required in any professional leadership role. Research papers also allow students to pursue their own topic of interest; your professors have to assume that you are genuinely interested in at least some major part of the course.1 The open-endedness of research papers sets you up to do your best work as a self-motivated scholar.
Research papers are, by far, the best kind of papers! If you have an original twist to an old idea and about five good sources, you pretty much have a research paper. Most of the hard work is done for you already! If I can give you one piece of advice for research papers, it would be to know what you’re looking for in an article. If you want statistics, skim for statistics. Knowing what you want will cut down the time it takes you to find sources.
This chapter is about secondary sources: what they are, where to find them, and how to choose them.2 Recall the distinction between primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are original documents, data, or images: the law code of the Le Dynasty in Vietnam, the letters of Kurt Vonnegut, data gathered from an experiment on color perception, an interview, or Farm Service Administration photographs from the 1930s.3 Secondary sources are produced by analyzing primary sources. They include news articles, scholarly articles, reviews of films or art exhibitions, documentary films, and other pieces that have some descriptive or analytical purpose. Some things may be primary sources in one context but secondary sources in another. For example, if you’re using news articles to inform an analysis of a historical event, they’re serving as secondary sources. If you’re counting the number of times a particular newspaper reported on different types of events, then the news articles are serving as primary sources because they’re more akin to raw data.