Research, like writing, is an incredibly creative process. As you encounter and sift through sources, you will find yourself joining conversations already in motion, and these experiences, in turn, will shape your own 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.
In your courses here at Puget Sound, you'll often be asked to work with "scholarly articles" as a way to join ongoing "scholarly conversations," 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 folkloric elements in Japanese anime. You've come across the following piece:
Ortabasi, Melek. “(Re)Animating Folklore: Raccoon Dogs, Foxes, and Other Supernatural Japanese Citizens in Takahata Isao’s Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko.” Marvels & Tales, vol. 27, no. 2, 2013, pp. 254–75. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.13110/marvelstales.27.2.0254.
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 scholarly argument? Why or why not?
Would you/could you/should you use this source in your research project? Explain the circumstances in which you might or might not use it.