A successful research project begins with a search of the literature. As you discover sources, you will need to evaluate their relevance, credibility, and reliability. You will need scholarly sources to support your ideas and reference in your paper.
Start by reading your assignment carefully. Understand what your professor’s expectations are regarding the types of sources you should be using. In most cases, you will be expected to use scholarly research literature, sometimes referred to as the primary literature; it represents the results of original research (i.e. new information contributed to the discipline). This is the literature scientists use to communicate their results to other researchers.
Note: As we said in the Developing a Topic portion of this guide, you may want to read more popular works to explore a topic, sources like websites, blogs, magazines, your textbook, etc. However, these are examples of secondary literature (summaries of the primary literature) and will not be appropriate to cite in your paper.
Scientists communicate the results of their research to one another using several types of primary literature. Recognizing this literature will help you identify scholarly works. The following are the types of scholarly works that would be appropriate for your paper:
The most common type of primary literature is scholarly research journals, sometimes referred to as academic journals. They publish scholarly research in the form of articles that are often peer reviewed (i.e. articles that have been reviewed and critiqued by the author’s peers in their area of research). Key characteristics that can help you recognize a scholarly research article are as follows:
Review articles are also published in journals but, unlike research articles that discuss a specific research study, review articles summarize a collection of published literature about a particular topic. Their benefit is that they can show the progress of research over time, help make connections between the works of different researchers, and suggest opportunities for future research. In a review article, the author has already identified and pulled together a lot of literature for you.
The report literature can come from government agencies as part of their organizational mission and from private research organizations contracted by a sponsoring government agency. This literature may not be peer reviewed, but should receive oversight by senior research associates within the organization.
Some book literature can also be a source of scholarly work. Here are two examples: