Source types make up the scope of the literature you are searching. Common source types for history research include:
|Peer-reviewed journal articles and books/book chapters
|Magazines and newspapers
|Author is usually:
Scholar in field, academic, or researcher
Staff Writer, journalist, often a generalist
|Always many references and/or footnotes
Rarely cites sources, original sources may be obscure
|Articles and chapters are typically 10+ pages
|Usually do not contain ads
|Usually have ads
Primary sources are materials that provide firsthand testimony to a subject under investigation. Primary sources include letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, and pamphlets. Primary sources also include writings and recordings by witnesses who experienced the events or conditions being documented. For example, oral histories, autobiographies, and memoirs are primary sources.
Secondary sources discuss an event, a person, or other historical topic from a more recent perspective. Authors of secondary sources analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information from primary sources. Secondary sources most often take the form of books, book chapters, and journal articles.
A peer-reviewed journal is a respected academic publication. Before articles are published within these types of journals, they are sent by the editors of the journal to other scholars in the field ("peers"), often anonymously, to get feedback on the quality of the scholarship and research methods, as well as relevance or importance to the field. The article may be accepted, often with revisions suggested, or rejected for publication. Many peer-reviewed journals have low acceptance rates.
One way to find peer reviewed articles is to type your keywords into WPI Library Search, and then choose the filter on the left for Peer-reviewed Journals.
You can also search our Databases for peer-reviewed articles.
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Key Student Learning Competencies:
The 5 Ws and H is one technique that can help you evaluate your sources to determine if the sources are appropriate to use in your research project.
|The 5 Ws (and one H)
|The Surface-Level Questions
|The Deeper Questions
Who is the author, editor, or creator? Is the author qualified to write about this topic?
Who is the publisher?
What makes them qualified? First-hand experience? An advanced degree?
Is the publisher known for academic or commercial publications?
What type of document is it? For example, is it a newspaper article? A blog? A government website? A scholarly article? A book?
What is it about?
There is no 'bad' type of document, but some have gone through a more rigorous review process than others. Is the type of document you found appropriate for the type of research you are doing?
Is the information in the document relevant to your research topic?
When was this source published? Is the information up-to-date?
|The 'up-to-date'-ness of a source matters more for some research questions than others. Is the publication date appropriate for your research?
Where did the authors get their information from? Did they cite their sources?
|What types of sources did they cite?
What was the goal of the author or publisher? To communicate with other scholars? To educate? To entertain? To raise money?
|Who is the intended audience? Scholars? The general public?
How did the authors collect their data? Did they derive reasonable conclusions from the research?
How was the work reviewed before publication?
Did the author(s) only cite themselves/their associates? How well did they explain their process? Was their work reviewed by anyone else?
Was the work subject to peer-review or a similarly rigorous review process?
Evaluating sources is an ongoing activity you will do throughout your research, and it includes evaluation of your own search process. As you search, pay attention to the keywords and phrases you are using. Are you looking for information that will only confirm what you already suspect, or are you looking for possibly contradictory or opposing information as well? Are you searching in a variety of places for information? Try to use at least 3 different databases in your research to help you find a variety of sources and perspectives.
Look at the following sources, and think about how you might use each source for a research paper on World War II. As you look at each source, consider:
Depending on the source, some of these questions will be more relevant than others. Don't worry if you can't answer all of the questions during the time allotted for this activity.