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Research Orientation: Start Your Research Here

Some definitions, tips, and suggestions to help you get oriented to Library research.

What is an acceptable source?

When it comes to academic assignments, each one is unique. Check carefully to find out what kinds of sources are acceptable.

  • Academic or popular? Do they have to be peer-reviewed?
  • Media - only from a traditional news source or are new forms of publishing (e.g. blogs) acceptable?
  • Have you been asked to find primary sources?
  • Are you restricted by a minimum or maximum number of print or electronic sources?

What Is a Scholarly or Academic Journal?

A journal can be considered scholarly or academic (though not necessarily peer-reviewed) if it conforms to the standards of scholarly publishing. Though not all scholarly articles/journals have all of these earmarks, these are some indicators to look for:

  • on the journal website, it clearly states that it is an academic or scholarly publication
  • the article has footnotes/endnotes and an extensive bibliography
  • the article does not have many illustrations, other than images, charts and graphs which illustrate its findings
  • the article has multiple authors
  • the author(s) has an advanced degree (e.g., PhD) and/or the credentials of each author is listed as well as their institutional affiliation
  • the article title is lengthy, uses technical terms and describes what the article contains
  • the journal title is lengthy and starts with "The Journal of...," "The International...," or contains the words "Quarterly" or "Annual"
  • the journal publisher is a university or scholarly professional organization
  • the sources listed in the bibliography are scholarly (see above)
  • the article begins with an abstract which describes exactly what the reader will find in the text
  • the article says that it is primary research
  • the language of the article is academic and assumes the reader has knowledge in the area of coverage
  • the database lists the journal as "academic" or "scholarly"
  • the article or journal is indexed in a database that only includes scholarly and/or peer-reviewed titles

When in doubt, ask a librarian for assistance in determining whether or not a journal is scholarly or not.

Remember to read your assignment instructions carefully to determine what kinds of sources are acceptable and ask your instructor for clarification if you have any questions.

What is a reference resource?

Reference resources help you get started on a new topic, answer quick questions, and/or point you to further resources.

Examples of reference resources include:

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Thesauri
  • Atlases
  • Almanacs
  • Indexes

Watch the video below on how to access reference materials from CapU Library.

Do I cite dictionaries and encyclopedias?

Many students wonder if they have to cite dictionaries and encyclopedias in their assignments.

You must cite ALL sources that you reference in your work. This includes dictionaries and encyclopedias. This means when you:

  • quote a definition of a word
  • quote or paraphrase something from an encyclopedia entry
  • include an idea you learned about from a dictionary or encyclopedia in your writing

you need to cite the dictionary or encyclopedia as you would any other source.

However, if you read a dictionary or encyclopedia as background, then do other research based on what you learned and never refer to the ideas you saw in those first resources, you don't have to cite the dictionary or encyclopedia.

The Uses and Abuses of Wikipedia

Like all encyclopedias, Wikipedia is not a place to end your research, but it can be a good launching point from which to start. Wikipedia articles provide an overview of a topic which can which can help you find other more appropriate and citable resources.

Look for these things in a Wikipedia article:

  • Vocabulary on your topic
  • History and background informaiton
  • Controversies and subtopics you can use to narrow your topic
  • Citations and references you can follow and explore for yourself
  • Further Reading/External Links

But remember - this is a crowd-sourced resource. The information may not be accurate. Read the posted warnings and think critically about the information you find.