Once we find a topic, we need to begin our initial research. This step involves orienting ourselves with the materials we have and refining our research thesis based on that orientation.
Types of Sources
There are three types of sources for research:
- General sources: These are materials like dictionaries and encyclopedias.
- Primary sources: These are materials that are first-hand accounts. It can be original art or literature, period documents (diaries, shopping lists, etc.), or other artifact. The key is that it was created in the period under study.
- Secondary sources: These sources are commentaries and explanations about primary sources.
Once we have some sources collected, we need to evaluate them. Primary sources are almost always superior to secondary sources, but it is important to evaluate secondary sources according to the following criteria:
- Expertise of the author: If the author is a leader in the field and has significant credentials (honors, awards, degrees), the author can be considered an expert.
- The reputation of the publishing house: A book published by W. W. Norton & Company is vastly superior to a book published by some obscure publishing house.
- Recentness of publication: A newer book relies on all the research and discoveries of the past; a book published in 1900 lacks 100 years of background implicit in the newer book.
Source cards are a traditional method of organizing the sources of our research. Each card should include at the very least the following (for print resources):
- Author’s name
- Title of book
- Publishing company
- Publication place
- Publication date
The above information is primarily for monographs. Anthologies, collections, and edited books have different requirements.