At some point during your time as a university student you will probably be required to write an essay or research paper. When that time comes, you can use this website to learn more about research and writing and connect with the people and resources available to help you succeed as a student. If you need assistance with this website or using the libraries you can email, phone, or schedule a face to face meeting with a librarian to get help. There are librarians at University of Manitoba for every subject area who can teach you how to find what you need for your coursework and research assignments.
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As a student you are part of a scholarly community that actually extends beyond this university. It includes students, professors and researchers at universities and colleges around the world sharing a common purpose: discovering, creating, and sharing new information.
When you write a paper in university you are often asked to do your research using scholarly sources. So, what are scholarly sources? These are sources of information that share new research. The most common examples are books and articles written by university researchers and professors available at university libraries... quite different from the types of books and magazine articles found at most bookstores. To be considered scholarly or academic scholarly sources have to meet basic criteria.
How do I know if it is a scholarly source?
With everything you read you should be asking yourself, "How can I know if what I am reading is fair, accurate, or true?" Is the source of information trustworthy and how do I know it can be trusted? This applies to all books, articles, and documents, including scholarly sources.
Suppose you read an article in a magazine or newspaper and found later that the author fabricated the information or distorted it to support a particular point of view. You would probably lose confidence in the author and may be less likely to trust the integrity of other articles they have written. Scholarly writing has requirements that encourage academics to produce honest, original research based on good evidence. These requirements ensure that scholars and students don't just make it up. They must do in-depth research, and give credit to others for the information and ideas they borrow. Following these requirements gives academic writing more credibility.
Information in books and articles is more credible when it includes:
A lot of students entering university for the first time may be accustomed to doing their research online using Google or Google Scholar. You can use Google Scholar to find scholarly sources but the Libraries' website is a better place to start your research. Here are a two reasons why.
Every year the library buys thousands of new books and eBooks and pays for subscriptions to journals that are not freely available online. So while you might be able to use Google to find scholarly articles in most cases you cannot read them without paying first. Before you consider spending money to read an article you found online check to see if the library can give you access. A portion of your tuition fees already pay for you to get access the same online content.
There are many books, articles, documents, and other types of information at the library that you will not find online because they have never been digitized and are only available in print.
Does that mean you shouldn't use Google Scholar? Google Scholar has many advantages but the bottom line is the library provides access to more than you can find online. Read more about Google Scholar in the section on Searching.
Your professor or instructor may also ask you to find articles that have been peer-reviewed. Peer Review is a process of subjecting an author’s work, research or ideas to the scrutiny of experts in the same field. It is a way to verify the credibility of an article before it is accepted for publication.
It is important to keep in mind that even though a journal is peer reviewed, an article in that journal may not be. Editorials, book reviews, reader comments, and news items may all appear in a journal without going through the peer review process because they are not the types of academic articles that are referenced in scholarly research.
How does peer review work?
Suppose a researcher at a university has recently completed a study on the economic benefits of bike lanes. To share the results of her study with other researchers in her field she writes an article and submits it to a scholarly journal for publication. Before the journal will accept her article it must be reviewed by other scholars who do similar research. The reviewers will either approve the article or recommend ways the author could improve it before it is accepted. Once the article is approved for publication it may be included in a future issue.
When you search the library there are two ways to know if an article is peer-reviewed.
Can you find them in the example below? (Hint: watch the video above.)
In the same way journalists publish articles in newspapers, researchers publish articles about their research in academic journals to share their work with other academics and make it available to the public. Research articles are typically published in academic journals that you can find at a university library.
You may have been given a research topic for your assignment, or you may have chosen one yourself. Either way, when you need to find an article you can’t realistically look through hundreds of journal issues one by one to see if they have published something you can use. It would be much more efficient if you could search multiple journals at the same time. Databases allow you to do this. Databases are websites that keep a record of articles published by a large number of journals so students and scholars can find the information they need quickly.
It is not always easy to know what database to search. Some only include journals for specific subjects such as health, sociology, or chemistry. Other databases are multidisciplinary. At UM Libraries you can view our Databases A-Z list and search for databases by subject area. You can also visit our subject guides to find out what databases are recommended by librarians. If you are not sure what database to choose you can just search the library. Most databases can be searched simultaneously using the Library Search.
At the Libraries books and articles may be available in print or online and sometimes both. Unless your assignment says otherwise, it is ok to use online or print sources. The difference is the format, not the content. Most articles that you find at the Libraries will be downloadable pdf files that you can print or read on a computer or tablet. Ebooks can be more complicated. Borrowing periods are often much shorter and they may have restrictions on how many pages can be downloaded or printed. You may also need to download Adobe Digital Editions to read Ebooks if they are not available as pdfs and in many cases, just like print books, if another student has "checked out" an ebook you will need to wait until they return it before you can access it yourself.
When you find a book using the library search, how do you know if it is available as a print book or an ebook? Print books will have a book icon appear beside the words “Available at” and tell you the library location and call number. When a link icon appears beside the words “Full text available,” that means you are looking at an ebook. In the case of the example below, you can see that it is available both in print and online. It can be found at the Université Saint Boniface Library on the shelf with the call number E78 .M25 M122s. You can also access the online version by choosing "Full Text Available".
Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources
A secondary source is a second hand account where the author did not experience an event or time period first hand. Secondary sources use primary sources as evidence.
In many courses you may be asked to use a primary source for an assignment. Primary sources are any original, firsthand account of an event or time period. Personal letters or diaries are common examples but the format of a primary source may vary from written text to photographs or audio recordings.
Most often you will find primary sources in archives but because many historical documents have been digitized they can also be accessed from some library databases and websites. The University of Manitoba has its own Archives & Special Collections and you can search primary source databases available through UM Libraries. Other common online sources of primary sources are Hathi Trust and the Internet Archive.
In some cases it may be difficult to tell if something is a primary or secondary source. For instance, while some articles appearing in newspapers may be firsthand accounts often news reports are based on information gathered from a range of sources. If you are unsure of whether or not something is a primary source you can ask a librarian or archivist.
Primary Source Examples
Secondary Source Examples
It is important to evaluate the validity of a primary source in the same way you would evaluate a secondary source. Firsthand accounts may provide a closer perspective of an historical event but they can be equally biased or inaccurate because of the limitations of the author's experiences or beliefs. When analyzing primary sources you can use the 5Ws to help you learn more about what they can contribute to our understanding of the past.
Who made it?
Who is the creator? Who wrote, published, photographed, recorded, or otherwise made the document? Sometimes it is straight forward, such as a letter or a report. Other times, it could be a photograph taken by an unknown photographer.
What is it?
Consider what kind of primary source you have. For example, is it a photograph or field notebook? What technology was used to create it? How might this change the way you read or view it? If the source is an audio oral history how would it be different if the oral history was in a video format?
Where was it created?
Knowing the place a document was created is another aspect of understanding its context. If the record of a document from WWI was archived in Winnipeg or at Vimy Ridge, how would that make it different?
When was it created?
In what time period was the material created? It is important to be able to place the creation of the document on a timeline in relation to other events you are researching. For example, research in biology during the 1980s may no longer be considered new or groundbreaking but, it can show you how far scientific research in that field has come.
Why was it created?
Try to determine the message the document was conveying in its particular time and context. What audience was the creator trying to reach? And for what purpose?
Use the following questions to help you choose the correct way to cite primary source materials.
If you need more help with citing primary sources you can ask a librarian or archivist.
Most archives have their own citation standards. If you are using a primary source from the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections here are some examples of how to write your citation. If you need more help with citing archival materials it is best to contact an archivist.
When studying the ancient world, the term “primary sources” refers to material from the ancient world itself, including archaeological remains and artifacts, inscriptions, coins, art, and ancient textual material. It is a primary source because it comes from the ancient world. This can lead to some confusion, as an ancient author may be a primary source in that they are ancient, but at the same time, they may be describing events that they did not witness or live through, and thus, they are not direct primary sources for the event in question.
Textual sources from the ancient world have their own unique citation style; because many translations and editions of ancient texts have been published over the centuries, it is essential that scholars cite the ancient texts directly, rather than any given modern edition. This allows scholars to identify the passage or work being discussed, regardless of which modern editions or which translations of the work they have access to. Detailed information about this specialized citation style can be found here, or in the Chicago Manual of Style. How to cite inscriptions, papyri, and text fragments from the ancient world are also discussed in the linked document.
Primary sources, also called primary literature, are sources that report the results of original research projects. Typically, primary literature comes in the form of journal articles, dissertations, or reports, but may also include sources such as lab books, patents, or datasets. Sources that are based on the primary literature, such as reviews or meta-analyses, are referred to as secondary sources. Secondary sources may take the form of journal articles or book chapters, for example. Tertiary sources compile or organize other sources, typically for ease of access. and do not make any attempt at analyses, as primary and secondary sources do. Textbooks and reference materials such as encyclopedias are examples of tertiary sources.
Articles and chapters that are primary sources will provide details on the structure and methodology of their study and sample. Generally primary source articles will be structured with the following headings:
Other headings and subheadings may appear as well, but primary sources will include all of the aforementioned components. Secondary sources may be structured in a similar manner, but the title or abstract of a secondary source will usually identify it as such, by use of words like ‘review’ or ‘synthesis’ or ‘meta-analysis.’
The best way to determine whether a source is primary or secondary, however, is to look at the methods section; if it is describing an experiment, field study, or other original study that the authors conducted, then it is a primary source. If the methods describe pulling together other sources to provide better understanding or insight into a topic, then it is a secondary source. Secondary sources may also describe details of how they found and identified primary literature that they included in their analysis.
Methods section of a primary source
We tested whether red-winged blackbirds from undisturbed marshes adjusted the structure of their trills in response to experimentally broadcasted low-frequency white noise. We presented a given subject with two sequential playback treatments over the course of approximately 6 min, while simultaneously recording its vocal response (recording details provided below). For each trial, we continued the first treatment until the subject sang between 3 and 7 songs. We commenced the second treatment immediately after the first and continued it until the subject sang another 3–7 songs. Treatment order was randomized for each subject. (Source)
Methods section of a secondary source
Relevant studies were searched by using the following electronic databases: Ebsco, ISI Web of Knowledge, JSTOR, Omega (Utrecht University Digital Publications Search Machine), Science Direct, Scopus, Springer Link and Wiley InterScience. The search terms were: road* AND impact* AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird; infrastructure AND impact* AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird; road* AND distance AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird; road-effect zone AND mammal abundance, bird abundance; road* AND disturbance* and biodiversity OR mammal, bird; powerline AND impact AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird; wind park AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird; road traffic* AND impact* AND biodiversity* OR mammal, bird; infrastructure AND disturbance AND biodiversity OR mammal, bird. An Internet search was also performed using the meta-search engine Google scholar. Bibliographies of articles viewed at full text were searched for relevant secondary articles. Authors and recognized experts in the field of infrastructure development, road establishment and effects on biodiversity (Christian Nellemann, UNEP-Grid Arendal, and Rien Reijnen, Alterra) were also contacted for further recommendations, and for provision of any unpublished material or missing data that may be relevant (grey literature). Foreign language searches were undertaken by using cross-reference. (Source)
In the Health Sciences, the term primary sources refers to original reports of research, which are published as journal articles, book chapters, dissertations, or government reports. Often, other research (e.g., reviews) will be done that is based on those primary sources - these are called secondary sources. Secondary sources are also often published as journal articles and in the Health Sciences, students are encouraged to make use of them as they are considered a higher level of evidence (see the Evidence Pyramid for more details).
Journal articles or book chapters that describe original research.
Journal articles that summarize or repurpose original research.
Books or online tools that summarize or repurpose primary and secondary sources. They are often in easy to read and understand formats.
If the article or book chapter you are reading is a primary source, the authors will include details in the methods section on the number of people they studied, how long they were studied for, and what rules they followed. They might also indicate what type of study it is (e.g, cohort, case control, RCT). Material that is a secondary source is often clearly indicated in the title or description. Look for words like review, synthesize, or appraise. In the methods section, secondary sources will often describe how they found other studies to include (e.g, what databases they searched for articles).
Methods section of a primary source
We conducted a prospective, randomized, single-blinded, pragmatic, controlled, clinical trial evaluating the impact of a 12-week course of massage therapy. Seventy burn survivors consented to participate and 60 completed the study. Two homogeneous, intra-individual scars were randomized to usual care control or massage therapy plus usual care. Massage, occupational or physical therapists provided massage treatment 3x/week for 12 weeks. (Source)
Methods section of a secondary source
Studies were sought in three databases PubMed, Embase and Web of Science. Full text articles on conservative treatments, such as pressure therapy, silicone gels, massage therapy, use of moisturizers, rehabilitation, physical activity, exercising, splinting, stretching and mobilization on burn scars in a population of adults were included. Inclusion criteria for the review involved a patient population of adults with burn scars and a conservative treatment intervention. The latest search data was January 12, 2015 (Source)
Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources should all be cited according to the citation style guidelines in your course or subject area. There are specific rules for how to cite journal articles, books, book chapters, etc but no citation rules specific to primary, secondary, or tertiary sources. Contact your librarian if you need more help.
A citation is a way of identifying the source of a quotation or information that has been borrowed from another author. You will see citations appear in the scholarly books and articles you use in your research and you are expected to use them in your own writing at the university. Referencing the work of others is an ethical part of being member of a scholarly community. Most importantly, citations are a way of giving others credit for their work but there are other reasons why you are expected to reference your sources.
Learning to create references will also help you to understand how to read references, which you will find in almost all of your academic reading. That means that when you find a good source for an assignment, you can use the reference list to find related sources. You can even start from the reference list of an assigned reading.
There are different styles of citations, each of which looks a little different. All citation styles consist of 2 parts. First, there is an in-text citation, which you include in your writing to indicate you have used an outside source. Second is the reference list (sometimes called a "bibliography" or "works cited"). Each in-text citation has a matching reference in this list, which comes at the end of your assignment.
The Chicago style is an exception and requires 3 parts: an in-text citation, a footnote or endnote, and a bibliography. Below are examples of commonly used citation styles. Learn more about citation styles in the section on Citing.
Most commonly used in the social sciences.In Text
Austerity measures in health and social spending in England since 2010 are projected to cost 120 000 lives by 2020 (Watkins et al., 2017).References
Watkins, J., Wulaningsih, W., Da Zhou, C., Marshall, D. C., Sylianteng, G. D. C., Dela Rosa, P. G., … Maruthappu, M. (2017). Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis. BMJ Open, 7(11), e017722. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722
Most commonly used in the humanities.In Text
Austerity measures in health and social spending in England since 2010 are projected to cost 120 000 lives by 2020 (Watkins et al. 6).Bibliography
Watkins, Johnathan, et al. ‘Effects of Health and Social Care Spending Constraints on Mortality in England: A Time Trend Analysis’. BMJ Open, vol. 7, no. 11, Nov. 2017, p. e017722. Crossref, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722.
Most commonly used in the health sciences.In Text
Austerity measures in health and social spending in England since 2010 are projected to cost 120 000 lives by 2020.1References
1. Watkins J, Wulaningsih W, Da Zhou C, et al. Effects of health and social care spending constraints on mortality in England: a time trend analysis. BMJ Open. 2017;7(11):e017722. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722
Most commonly used in the humanities and social sciences.In Text
Austerity measures in health and social spending in England since 2010 are projected to cost 120 000 lives by 2020.1Note
1. Johnathan Watkins et al., “Effects of Health and Social Care Spending Constraints on Mortality in England: A Time Trend Analysis,” BMJ Open 7, (November 2017): 6. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722Bibliography
Watkins, Jonathan, Wahyu Wulaningsih, Charlie Da Zhou, Dominic C. Marshall, Guia D. C. Sylianteng, Phyllis G. Dela Rosa, Viveka A. Miguel, Rosalind Raine, Lawrence P. King, and Mahiben Maruthappu. “Effects of Health and Social Care Spending Constraints on Mortality in England: A Time Trend Analysis,” BMJ Open 7, (November 2017): 1-9. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017722
The Academic Learning Centre at the University of Manitoba offers tutoring and workshops to help you improve your writing and study skills. Visit their website to learn more about supports available to undergraduate and graduate students.
The Faculty of Grad Studies (FGS) also offers many academic supports and the Grad Steps and Mitacs workshop series. To learn more and register for upcoming workshops and events visit the FGS website.
The Libraries have tip sheets for various types of writing assignments. You can download any of our tip sheets below. If you have questions about writing a librarian can help you with contacting a tutor at the Academic Learning Centre or signing up for workshops.