Philosophy is the study of views concerning nature, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, being, knowledge, logic, and all manner of theory. Philosophers often tackle complex questions that require the examination of a variety of perspectives and resources.
Research, in philosophy and other academic disciplines, is a process. As you encounter and sift through sources, you will find yourself shaping your argument in perhaps unexpected ways. The ultimate goal of research is not "to find the right answer," but rather, to create a persuasive argument based on your synthesis, analysis, and interpretation of the sources you use. For this reason, the choices you make about which sources to use as you craft your argument are of the upmost importance.
In academic research, it's important to be able to distinguish between different types of sources. These differences often are contextual, meaning that a single source might fit in different categories depending on how you are using it and in what academic discipline you are writing.
Primary sources are the raw materials of scholarship.
Secondary sources report on or interpret primary sources.
Tertiary sources synthesize and present overviews of primary and secondary sources.
Scholarly sources present sophisticated, researched arguments using both primary and secondary sources and are written by experts.
Popular sources aim to inform or entertain and are intended for a general, non-specialized audience. In academic writing, popular sources most often are analyzed as primary sources.
You'll often be asked to use "scholarly articles" in your academic work, but what do those actually look like? What are the elements of a source that you would examine critically in order to determine how to categorize that source? What are some of the characteristics that distinguish a popular source from a scholarly source?
Evaluating Your Sources
Imagine that you are exploring philosophical arguments about death and dying. You've come across the following piece:
Traylor, Sam. "Living With the Dying, Being With the Dead." Stance, vol. 11, Spring 2018, pp. 81-91.
You have just a short time to look at this article and have something useful to say about it. Note the following:
Which section(s) did you look at?
What useful thing do you have to say about it? In other words, what did you learn? Note that you don’t have to read the whole article (or understand the whole thing!) to learn something!
Is this source scholarly? Why or why not? Does this source present a philosophical argument? Why or why not?
Would you/should you use this source in your research project?
BEAM is an acronym intended to help students think about the various ways we might use sources when writing a researched argument. Joseph Bizup, an English professor at Boston University, outlined the framework in a 2008 article. The idea has since been refined and adapted by many others.