News sources (newspapers, magazines, news blogs, news broadcasts, news feeds, etc.) are written by reporters (aka journalists) on topics of current interest.
When and Why You Should Use News Sources:
Remember: Not all news sources are created equal! Some have hidden (or obvious!) motives or political beliefs. Do some background research into who owns the news organization to learn more about it.
Journal articles -- also known as "scholarly articles," "peer-reviewed articles," or "academic articles" -- are sources that are written and reviewed by scholars; this means the information is approved by other experts before publication.
When and Why You Should Use Journal Articles:
Remember: Journal articles can sometimes feel dense or intense. Look for visual cues (headings, sections, bullets, charts/graphs) within articles to help guide you to relevant information. Need help? Check out this Anatomy of a Scholarly Article tutorial.
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Primary sources are firsthand accounts of an event -- or original records created during that time period -- which do not contain any outside interpretation. Primary sources can include letters, diaries, or interviews; historical news reportage; original works of fiction, art, or music; testimony or speeches.
When and Why You Should Use Primary Sources:
Remember: Primary sources are the building blocks of historical research and should provide the foundation of your argument and interpretation, whereas secondary sources should inform and supplement the primary sources. Use your primary sources as evidence for answering your research question and write based on those sources, rather than “plugging them in” after the fact to bolster your argument. In short, primary sources should drive the paper, not the other way around.
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Books written by scholars and published by university presses are a good source of information for many topics.
When and Why You Should Use Books:
Remember: Books may contain less recent information, often due to a lengthy publication process. Also, you may only need to read one chapter of a scholarly book!
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Book reviews for creative works (fiction, poetry, short stories) are often written by journalists or fellow authors and are a good measure of contemporary reaction to a work. They often appear in newspapers, magazines, or online (blogs and review websites) and can be as brief as one paragraph or several thousand words. Book reviews generally do not contain the kind of in-depth analysis found in literary criticism written by scholars.
When and Why You Should Use Book Reviews:
Remember: Creative works are generally reviewed near the date of publication or within the first few years after publication, so target your searches. Also, for older works, look for book reviews that may have appeared for subsequent special editions or reprints in later years.
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Government documents are any piece of information produced by a government entity or at government expense. They include many types of sources: the hearings and debates of legislative bodies; official text of laws, regulations, and treaties; records of government expenditures and finances; statistical compilations, like census data; investigative reports; scientific data, etc.
A government's documents are direct evidence of its activities, functions, and policies. They are considered a government's official "voice."
When and Why You Should Use Government Information:
Remember: U.S. government documents are produced by government agencies at local, state, and federal levels. Consider which level(s) may have the information you need and whether comparing across levels could be useful.
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Data is raw information. Data or data sets are primary sources that are the result of research studies or surveys. Statistics are the collection, organization, interpretation, and analysis of data. Statistics are found in tables, graphs, and charts.
When and Why You Should Use Data:
Remember: Data alone can't make the argument for you. Treat data as evidence that requires interpretation. Data is only as good as the people who create it, the quality of their work, and how well they relay their personal or organizational bias.
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