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First Year Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English

Resources and tools that support research of students enrolled in EN 121

How to navigate this guide

This guide uses tabs to provide examples of each skill that is presented. Feel free to explore the different tabs in each section before moving on to the next portion!

Different Kinds of Sources

Reference sources refer, or guide, us to meaningful sources by giving us crucial background information on a specific subject.

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Indexes
  • Directories

Let's take our recycling topic for example. If we look at the Wikipedia article on recycling, we learn a basic definition of recycling, what kinds of materials can be recycled, and how recycling has been promoted and engaged with within out society. We have major dates for marketing and promotion campaigns, major players in the recycling industry, any public policy that has been enacted to promote and regulate recycling, and some industry numbers.

  • Follow the Trail: All of this information gathered together in the Wikipedia article is referenced out to other sources. Wikipedia did not go out and interview people and gather the statistics or write the policies, they are just providing basic information about them. So then we, as researchers, can follow the trail to gain access to the original sources of these information. 

  • Make Notes: As you read through the information in your reference sources, you will come across specific terms and facts that you want to make note of. These notes can be used to develop your keyword inventory and eventually your search terms! 

  • Focus your Research: If you come across an entry in your reference sources that seems to be quite large with lots of subcategories, consider narrowing the focus of your research to one or two of those subcategories. Narrowing your topic makes it easier for you to talk specifically about your ideas.

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include :

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

This definition comes from 1

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include : 

  • Textbooks
  • Magazine articles
  • Histories
  • Criticisms commentaries
  • Encyclopedias

This definition comes from 1

Categories of Secondary Sources

Popular Books (published by commercial publishers, usually for profit)

Journalism/Popular (Serial)

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Editorial
  • Blogs

Scholarly Books (published by academic presses, usually to disseminate research and scholarship)

Scholarly Writing (Serial)

  • Criticism and Theory
  • Research Articles

Choosing the Right Sources

Useful questions to ask when assessing a source:

  • Who is the author? What is their authority to write on this subject? Is the author an expert on the topic? (education, credentials, work experience)

  • Are there citations (footnotes, endnotes, etc.) and/or a bibliography? If it is an online source, are there hyperlinks that take you to the original information sources?

  • What is the purpose of the resource? Is it to inform readers, to report on a scholar’s research project or to persuade them of a certain viewpoint?

  • Is the source biased? In what way? Do you think the author has an agenda? Or the publisher?

  • How current or up-to-date is the source? Look for a publication date. How does the currency affect your research topic?

  • What kind of Publication Process did the source go through? Do you think it was peer-reviewed?

  • Do you think that this source is popular or scholarly? Why?

  • Would this source/information be appropriate to use in your paper? If not, then where or when would it be appropriate to use?

There is a lot of great information on the Internet, but sometimes its hard to figure out what is usable and what you should leave behind This is because the Internet is a medium that is not regulated by a standard set of publication practices or editorial processes. In fact, the entire spectrum of information types exist on the Internet. This means writers have the responsibility of knowing how to assess the information they find on the Internet using measurements like: 

  • author expertise 
  • publication process 
  • editorial oversight 
  • reputation
  • intent 

All of these variables come into when deciding if a source is appropriate to use in a paper assignment.

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