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General Library Guide for PWR1 Coursework: Find background and reference sources

Where should you look?

In most STEM fields, and in most of the quantitative social sciences, the format of articles (or conference papers, especially in computer science) is the most important way to find scholarly information about a research topic. In the humanities and other social sciences, books (also called monographs) are usually more important.

Gathering information and evidence from a variety of primary and secondary sources provides more thorough research.

Primary sources report raw information and provide first-hand evidence of a topic under investigation. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, scientific reports, and works of art. Primary research analyzes data that is collected in a process; in other words, the author(s) are reporting on something they themselves have done.

Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include review articles and academic books. Thus, secondary research describes, interprets, or synthesizes information and data collected from primary sources.


Type Definition Example
Primary First-hand evidence or investigation of a research topic
  • Empirical or statistical results
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Letters or diary entries
  • Photographs
  • Audio clips, such as speeches or interviews
Secondary Second-hand information that analyzes, describes, or evaluates the information of primary sources.
  • Books
  • Review articles
  • Blog posts
  • Textbooks
  • Documentaries
Tertiary Sources that identify, index, or consolidate primary and secondary sources.
  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies
  • Indexes

Where to find credible sources

credible source is backed up with evidence and without bias. It is written by a trusted authority on the subject matter and the claims should be refenced with citations that are easy to find, clear, and unbiased. Looking into the trustworthiness of author's citations can help you to find new sources for your own bibliography. Evaluating source credibility enables you to collect accurate information to support your arguments and conclusions.

The sources you use will largely depend on the kind of research you are doing. For preliminary research to get familiar with a new topic, use a combination of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Some credible starting points are encyclopedias, textbooks, websites with .edu or .gov domains, news sources with first-hand reporting, and research-oriented magazines like ScienceMag or Nature Weekly. As you progress deeper into a topic, move towards scholarly work- that is, peer-reviewed journal articles and manuscripts. Academic journals are considered one of the most reliable sources of information for academic writing.

I have highlighted a few books and article databases of possible interest below.

There may be other places besides these that are better for you and your topic.

If you need help, visit the "Getting reference assistance" tab to find support.

Select Databases

Selected books from our collection