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ENC 1101 (Whyte): Research Basics

This guide is designed to help students with library research as they complete assignments in Professor Whyte's ENC 1101 course.


Watch the video below for a librarian's explanation of the content on this page (captions pending)

Skip ahead to these timestamps to view a specific topic

0:38 - Scholarly v. Popular Sources

8:12 - Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

15:55 - Creating Keywords

23:24 - Evaluating Sources

How to Choose Your Keywords

Choosing Your Keywords

An effective database search depends on a good choice of keywords (you cannot type a question into the database). How do you pull out keywords from your research question or statement to use in your database search?

  1. Think about your topic. Write it down in the form of a research question or statement.
  2. Circle the most important ideas or concepts in your question or statement. These become your keywords.
  3. Think of some synonyms or related terms that you can use for your keywords. These new keywords will come in handy when you are searching.
  4. Connect your keywords together using the word AND. By adding the word AND, you are telling the database that you want these keywords to show up in your search results.

Here's an example:

What are the effects of media violence on teenagers?


Effects OR Consequences

Media OR Television

Violence OR Aggression OR Destructive Behavior

Teenagers OR Adolescents

Possible Search strategies:

Media AND Violence AND Teenagers 

Television AND Aggression AND Adolescents

Television AND Violence AND Teenagers AND Effects

Media AND Destructive Behavior AND Adolescents AND Consequences


Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Different types of sources will be required for differing assignments and topics. This assignment requires you to use at least 4 secondary sources. Read through each tab to establish how to identify each source type.

A tertiary source is one that cites both primary and secondary resources to create a broad overview of an event or topic. These are often great sources at the start of the research process, used to learn as much as you can about your topic before hitting the library and databases. Tertiary sources should not make up the bulk of your citations.


Examples of tertiary resources are:

Your Textbook

An Encyclopedia

A Bibliography


Fact Books


A secondary source is written as a reflection or critique of primary sources, using primary sources as evidence. This author is not usually part of the event and is writing after the event occurred. Most library sources would fall in this category.


Examples of secondary sources are interpretations of primary sources in:

Books and eBooks

Journal Articles

Videos and eVideos

Web Sites


A primary source is considered a firsthand account of an event by a participant or observer. You may also hear these referred to as an original source or evidence. Some primary sources may not quote other sources or are opinion-based.


Examples of primary sources are:

Newspaper Articles

Science Experiments


Autobiographies and Diaries

Letters and Speeches

Court Cases

Government Publications

Original Research

Historical Artifacts


Scholarly versus Popular Sources

Not all articles are created equal - different kinds of articles in the library databases contain different kinds of information. Popular sources tend to be the least credible, but are often the only source to find articles on less scholarly topics. Consider your assignment and topic to decide which source is appropriate for you.

Evaluating Sources Using the CRAAP Method


When using online articles as research sources in an academic paper, it is important to evaluate each article thoroughly to ensure you're using articles that meet academic rigor. What does that mean? Not all sources are created equal! The news sites we visit in our spare time or share on social media may not necessarily be appropriate for a college-level assignment. The articles you use should be fact-based, and should answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of an event or news story. The following tabs summarize how to apply the CRAAP Test, a common source evaluation tool, to determine credibility of sources. 



Rutgers University Libraries

University of Texas Libraries

Center for News Literacy

Cornell University Library


When using a news article as a source, considering the publication date of the article is extremely important. News articles are primary sources written as an event unfolds, so the information can change over time as we learn more. Using the most up-to-date article is crucial. Articles found through search engines or on social media may be out of date even if shared recently.


As you consider an article's currency, ask yourself:

Is this a recent article? 

Has the article been updated?

Are the author's references current? 


Example: Six-Year-Old News Story Causes United Airlines Stock to Plummet


Research is not just about finding sources - it is about finding the best sources. You should expect to do multiple searches in multiple databases or web sites to find more articles than you need. From there, you can narrow down the sources you actually use to those which contain the most helpful research.


As you consider an article's relevance, ask yourself:

Does the information in this article help answer my thesis?

Who is the intended audience?

Is the source too juvenile, or too scholarly?

Did I read past the headline and first few lines of the article?

Is this the best article I can find on my topic?


Example: The Radical Self-Reliance of Black Homeschooling


With all sources, you want to make sure the author has some sort of expertise or exposure to your topic. Traditionally expertise would be established through the author's education or work experience. This can be difficult to discern with news sources as the authors are usually not subject experts, but journalists. Many online news sites hire content experts, but this is unlikely with a newspaper. When you consider authority in news sources, you should also evaluate the media source and its credibility. 


As you consider an article's authority, ask yourself: 

Who is the author?

What are the author's credentials?

Has the author written other articles on the same or similar topic? 

What is the domain/sponsor of the website?

Is the source a blog or a news source?

Is the website satirical or a hoax? 


Example: Martin Luther King, Jr - A True Historical Examination


Because your article may not always be written by an expert, you must ensure that the author is consulting reliable sources to write accurate articles. Those sources may be presented in a variety of ways, including an interview with an expert or witness, statistical data, or data reports. 


As you consider an article's accuracy, ask yourself:

Does the author provide any sources or citations?

Do those citations link to other credible sources?

Can the content be verified by multiple sources?

Does the author's tone seem unbiased?


Example: Facebook SOLD To U.S. Government For $10 Billion – Privacy Concerns On The Rise


Information can be reported for a variety of reasons. Reliable news sources report on facts with the purpose of informing readers. Beware of articles meant to sell you something, persuade you, or entertain you. Not all articles on news sites or in newspapers are fact-based. Watch out for editorials, opinion pieces, and advertisements. 


As you consider an article's purpose, ask yourself: 

Why did the author write this information?

Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?

Does the author's tone come across as impartial?

Does this article provoke an emotional response? 



One of the most difficult aspects of detecting an author's purpose is trying to identify any potential biases. An author is biased when their personal beliefs or opinions interfere with his or her ability to impartially report facts. News companies themselves can also be politically, religiously, culturally, or racially biased. Even your own personal bias can interfere in researching responsibly. Confirmation bias occurs when we interpret sources or seek out sources that align with our personal beliefs. Consider the media bias chart below. Do you normally get your online news from a biased source?

Interactive Media Bias Chart

There are other kinds of bias aside from those noted above. The University of Texas Libraries has created a comprehensive list of the different kinds of bias you may find in the media.

Commercial Bias News is sponsored by advertisers.  Does the news presented reflect the advertisements embedded within the media?
Temporal Bias News agencies look for "breaking stories," often relegating old news to the back page or leaving it entirely uncovered. Scan the back pages too!
Visual Bias Including visuals will draw the reader's attention.  Do images presented evoke specific responses?  Do they prejudice the reader to view the news one way?
Sensationalism  Good news is less exciting than news that is shocking or frightening.  Does the media exaggerate details to make a story more interesting?  Does the news agency focus only on the negative aspects of a story?
Narrative Bias Writers will generally develop a plot line - beginning, middle, and end - complete with drama.  News, however, is rarely so tidy. Remind yourself that stories you read in the news are "unfolding." If a story captures your attention, its best to follow that story over a period of time.
Fairness Bias Ethical journalism is, in theory, fair.  When a controversy arises, reporters will generally attempt to get the "other side" of the story.  When a rebuttal is reported, it can seem like the media is taking one side or another.  Read carefully to determine if presentation of both arguments is neutral.
Expediency Bias News is driven by deadlines. Those deadlines sometimes mean that reporters will return to experts they know well and have had successful contacts with previously. This may slant news in towards the political views of these experts.


Example: The front page of Occupy Democrats versus Breitbart

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