Types of Research Sources

Types of Research Sources

Research projects may require a variety of specific sources, such as a peer reviewed article, a research study that uses quantitative methods, or a specific publication (for example, the New York Times). Library search tools can be used to hone in on special types of research material.

Primary source

Primary sources are created by someone who personally participated in the events described.  This typically means something slightly different in the humanities compared to in the sciences, so the ideal search strategy will depend on the nature of the class.  For humanities, primary sources include formats like letters, diaries, autobiographies, oral histories, and interviews.  Fortunately, the library offers many whole databases that specialize in this type of material. 

African-American History Online, American Civil War: Letters and Diaries, American Indian History Online, American Women’s History Online, British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries, Modern World History Online, Oral History Online, North American Immigrant Letters & Diaries, The Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives, and Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 all offer primary material.  Even a database that might at first seem to be an exclusively secondary source, the Britannica, includes an option to search specifically for primary documents.

Beyond that, our Archives also holds a number of oral histories, particularly local history like the 1968 Richmond explosion and the Starr-Gennett company, as well as a number of interviews taken with students, faculty, staff, and administrators about IU East’s own history.  The video database AVON also includes thousands of interviews, although like the Britannica, much of the material there is of a secondary nature.

For science or social science, though, primary sources are those that include scientific experiments in which the authors participated – in other words, the writers conducted their own research and created new data in the process.  Primary source science articles can easily be identified if they include sections with labels like ‘methodology’, ‘procedure’, ‘the present study’, or something along those lines, which describe exactly what the authors did.  These are much easier to find than historical primary sources, because they are included in the normal science databases instead of being largely segregated into specialized ones.

One caveat with this is that research studies can differ, and a few do not include original research at all – for example, an author writing a meta-analysis of a lot of other studies on a given topic will be doing little to nothing new.  If in the first paragraph an article tells you that it is a meta-analysis, you can probably disqualify it as a primary source. 

Peer Reviewed source

Peer review is a process whereby other experts (the ‘peers’) in an academic field read an article and verify its scholarly value before it is published.  This often makes these articles the most rigorous and academically valid materials available.  The only type of research that will not include peer review is emerging news or current events (such as studying an ongoing election or war or crisis), because the peer review process is lengthy and can add six months or even a year to publication time. 

Most of IU East’s databases include the option to limit only to peer reviewed material, including the meta-search EBSCO Discovery Service.  This often appears under the search blank or on one edge of the screen, and might be a check box or a radio button.  Mark this box to get back exclusively peer reviewed content.

Current source

Often (particularly in science or health), researchers will want current sources, defined as published within a certain date range, such as the last five years.  This can be achieved easily in most databases in the same area of the screen where you limit to peer reviewed sources.  If a ‘current’ source is needed, it can be retrieved using the same space where other limiters are located. Look for one describing the type of publication.  This section might be called ‘format’ or ‘source type’ depending on the database.  Then, if you need a newspaper, check the box or click the link given.  IU East also subscribes to newspaper-only databases, such as Newspaper Source or ProQuest News & Newspapers.

Quantitative or Qualitative research source

Quantitative research is the kind that deals with the measurement and analysis of numerical data.  Expect to see bar graphs and data charts in such articles.  Economics, nursing, or the natural sciences are disciplines that are most likely to use quantitative methods. 

Qualitative research deals with observation or interviews of subjects and can be small studies – or even single case studies.  Expect to see descriptions of a specific subject’s life situation (even if the person’s name has been redacted or changed for confidentiality reasons).  Social work or psychology are disciplines that are particularly likely to use qualitative research.

Both types of research have value, but if you need one or the other, try putting that word in with your other keywords when searching, like this.  Frequently, which kind of study it is will be mentioned in the abstract or opening paragraph, and almost certainly will be mentioned in the methodology section.

If you need more help finding the material that matches your class’s criteria, you can Ask Us for help at iueref@iue.edu or click this button:

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