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First Year Research Experience (FYRE) Support Guide for Research Coaches

Research Cycle: Investigate

While Google and Google Scholar are great starting places when searching for information for a research project, it is important for students to understand these tools are not always sufficient search tools for academic work.  This section outlines what scholarly sources are and showcases various scholarly tools available to students.

Searching the Literature

What is a scholarly or academic source?
Scholarly or academic sources are written or created by scholars or professionals in their field. Most are evaluated by experts in the field before they are published via the peer-review process.  Popular sources are not typically written by experts in a field; they are created for the general public for the purpose of sharing information or for entertainment.

When to use scholarly or popular sources:
It is important for students to recognize when it is appropriate to use different sources and not to think that all scholarly sources are 'good' and popular sources are' bad'.  Rather, it is more important to understand the purpose of different types of sources and how these sources can lend credibility to one's work. 

For example, scholarly sources are core to academic writing as they provide credible evidence to support the author's claims. Professors expect to see students incorporating scholarly sources into their papers. Alternatively, popular or news sources are great sources to use when a student is looking for current events, background information, popular trends, and social media reports (e.g. Twitter). 

Finding scholarly sources:
Scholarly books are often great starting points for students as these types of sources generally provide a broad overview of a topic.  Students can search the Library's Catalogue to find books, both in print and online. This guide provides tips on searching the catalogue.

Scholarly journal articles can be accessed through the library's various databases. The library subscribes to many different databases, some subject-specific such as Political Science Complete and some multi-disciplinary, such as Academic Search Complete and Web of Science.  Students are encouraged to consult the research guide for their course to see recommended databases and other resources in their subject area.  Students can consult this guide for assistance with database searching.

USearch is a popular search tool for students to use, especially when starting their research.  USearch pulls together various resources (books, journal articles, etc.) from multiple sources and displays them in a single list. 

It can be confusing with the various choices for search tools.  The site "Which search tool should I use" outlines the various search tools and helps searchers decide where to start and to understand what each of these tools do best.

Assistance with searching:
Students are encouraged to contact their subject librarian with questions regarding recommended places to search for information on their topic, search strategies, etc. 

Subject librarians are also available to come into your classroom and facilitate a workshop or a discussion on the various points of the research cycle. 

Further Resources: Searching the Literature

Further Resources: Evaluating Your Sources

  • Evaluating Sources for Credibility (video from NC State Univ Library)
  • Understanding Expertise (video from  University of Louisville Libraries) > this video is part of their Citizen Literacy Toolkit listed below.
  • Credibility is Contextual  (video)
  • Chapters 6 "Thinking Critically About Sources"  from Choosing and Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research (Links to an external site.), Ohio State University) provides practical information on how to identify relevant and credible sources.  As noted: "In order to evaluate a source, you have to answer two questions about it: Is this source relevant to my research question? Is this a credible source– a source my audience and I should be able to believe?" Tip: Use the arrows in the bottom left and right corners to navigate within this e-book.
  • SIFT  is a helpful acronym (from Mike Caulfied) outlining things to do to verify information online.  These habits are not meant to take much time, rather, they allow you to do a quick initial assessment to gauge whether a source or a claim deserves a closer look (much like a journalist or professional fact-checker would do).
  • Great toolkit here on Citizen Literacy. Being a critical consumer of information is a key component of citizenship.  Review some of these pages, especially the ones on lateral reading and evaluating expertise. These pages have videos, handouts, and activities that you may want to adapt.
  • How Do I Evaluate Online Information (tutorial from Univ of Arizona): contains a great video called "Becoming a Fact Checker" which outlines the process of lateral reading and other techniques used by fact-checkers.
  • How to Evaluate Information Sources: Critical Questions for Evaluating Your Sources 


The University Library offers various workshops throughout the term on topics such as finding academic sources.  Please encourage your FYRE students to attend these workshops!