This post is part of “The Cafe Scholar’s Guide to Writing a Research Paper” series, which walks you through the process of writing awesome research papers step by step from start to finish. When you are done finding great scholarly sources, be sure to check out the rest of the series!
When your professor assigns a research paper, she might tell you “only use scholarly sources.” (If she doesn’t, she just expects you to already know this.) For any college level research paper, the only sources you should use are academic or scholarly sources – sources written by scholars (people with academic training and research in a specific field), for scholarly purposes (not popular consumption). You’ve probably heard that Wikipedia is not a good scholarly source. So, what are good academic sources, and how do you find them?
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What is a good scholarly source?
Scholarly Sources are Peer Reviewed
Good Scholarly Sources have Extensive Bibliographies
Good Scholarly Sources are Written for an Academic Audience
Review Articles or Abstracts:
Textbooks and Encyclopedias:
What is NOT a good scholarly source?
Does the writer’s discipline matter?
Where to Find Good Scholarly Sources:
Ask your Professor!
Ask your Librarian!
Your School’s Article Database
E-books from your school’s Library:
Bibliography Bunny Trails
Looking for primary sources? This can be especially challenging for remote students. You used to have to go find that letter, photograph, government document, or diary at a collection somewhere, so you would be limited in your research by where you go geographically, as well as the time of day you could go. This is still true at times, but now, many of these primary source documents are being added to digital archives such as the Valley of the Shadow Project. They might be managed by universities, historical societies and museums, or government agencies, such as the Library of Congress, they provide all the information you need to cite these (sometimes unique) sources, and many are available to access for free online. In some graduate programs such as the History MA at Cal State San Marcos, students complete digital projects that make primary source material available in online archives as well. Check out the Archives page for Ashley Atkin's project!