Know Your Assignment
BEFORE YOU START your research, make sure you understand what your professor wants from you. If something is unclear, ask questions.
Quantity For a very short assignment, you might only need one or two books, articles, or web sites. For a longer assignment you will need a larger quantity and variety of sources.
Scholarly vs. Popular Professors generally prefer students use scholarly resources instead of popular resources.
Written by experts in same or related field
Layout is plain
Peer-reviewed by experts
Written by Journalists, or "layperson"
Layout is flashy
Fact vs. Opinion Your research should be based primarily on fact, not opinion.
Facts are verifiable: “Bill O’Reilly works for Fox News.”
Opinions are open to argument: “The media has a right-wing bias.”
Currency: Information for some topics becomes outdated very quickly, especially in fields such as the sciences and social sciences. In fields such as the humanities (history, theology, literature…), the publication date of the information may not matter.
Primary and Secondary Sources
A primary source gives a first-hand account of the subject matter. Examples include: autobiographies, artifacts, diaries, letters, newspaper articles, paintings, data-sets from science experiments.
The strength of primary sources is that they give you an intimate view of your subject.
The weakness of primary sources is that they tend to have a narrower scope than secondary sources, they do not provide as much perspective on a subject.
A secondary source gives a second-hand account of the subject matter. Examples include: biographies, histories, literary criticism, movie reviews, write-ups of Scientific findings.
The strength of secondary sources is that they analyze and interpret numerous sources (often including primary), and are useful for providing overview and perspective.
The weakness of secondary sources is that they are prone to factual error, and may be biased by the author’s interpretation of facts.
Keep in mind that primary and secondary sources come in different formats, including interviews, photographs, paintings, video documentaries, etc. If you need to finding or citing information in a format that is not covered in this Guide, you can always AskUs.
Our librarians are ready to assist you with your research 7 days a week, so stop by the reference desk at the library if you need some help. If you’re not on campus, you can call us at 718-990-6727 (Queens) or go to or use our AskUs Service to submit a question and we’ll email you an answer.
In addition to services at the Reference Desk, you can set up a one-on-one consultation with a librarian who will advise you on effective research strategies. Each
For further information, please contact: Prof. Lucy Heckman, (718) 990-6571.