Teaching Resources

Integrating Writing: Searching for Sources


Refer to library web sites for more thorough discussions of how to help your students conduct searches. It is always a good idea, however, to ask one of the librarians to help you customize a search handout for your particular research project. Identify for students the range of sources that would be appropriate for this kind of project and articulate for them what constitutes primary and secondary, scholarly and popular sources in this specific research context.


It is a good idea to get students doing preliminary searches at the beginning of the research process, especially as they are beginning to come up with topics. Assure them that they do not have to come up with a topic that "no one has ever researched before." In fact, part of the purpose of doing research is to engage in an ongoing conversation with others who have addressed a similar issue or question. They will add a unique voice and perspective to the issue as long as they are invested and interested in their process.

The following categories sketch out some of the different kinds of sources they will be encountering; work with a librarian to revise the list and to customize it for your class.

Scholarly publications: Academics and experts in particular fields and disciplines discuss theories and research in journals and other scholarly publications. You can identify scholarly publications in a number of the following ways:

  • They may have a review editorial committee listed at the beginning of the journal.
  • They may indicated that they are "refereed" or "peer reviewed" by other experts in the field before they are accepted for publication.
  • They use specialized vocabulary unfamiliar to or difficult to understand by someone outside the field.
  • They, generally, reference lists at the end of articles. These lists show where the author obtained his/her information.

For an academic research paper, you'll probably rely on scholarly publications to a large extent.

NOTE: Since electronic databases don't allow you to handle and leaf through copies of journals that include lists of editorial boards or descriptions of the journals' review procedures, you'll need some additional access to this information. In the library databases, you'll find "Ulrich's international periodicals directory." You can look up journals by title in Ulrich's and find a lot of the information you need to determine whether your source is scholarly.

Trade publications: These publications also are used by experts in particular fields; some examples include Beverage World, Advertising Age, Chemical News Weekly, etc. While these publications are not considered scholarly, they are a tremendous source for discovering what experts are talking about, trends that are going on, etc. Again, depending upon your question, you may need to augment your research with some trade publications.

Government Documents: This is a fairly obvious source of specialized materials and much of it is available on the Internet. Those of you focusing on policy or political issues will no doubt incorporate some of this information into your papers. Note that the UW Government Documents Library is a Depository Library, which means that it receives items published by the Federal Government, several states and foreign documents as well. These can be hard to find or decipher in the UW Catalog, so feel free to ask for help!

The UW Bothell Library homepage provides access through a single location to all of the Libraries' resources, print and electronic, as well as tools, services and the ability to search a wide range of Internet resources. There are many subject- and discipline-specific databases. In thinking about the databases you want to search, see if there are databases that cover your disciplinary interests. For example, if we were looking at the issue of "using distance learning for vocational training," we might search ERIC, a database devoted to the field of education, which includes both research and applied articles.