The Mesquite Online News - Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Column: Tackling research, professor expectations and sources

University Librarian Stefanie Wittenbach

By Stefanie Wittenbach
University Librarian

As students start to tackle research projects and presentations for classes, one of the first things to get a handle on is what resources the professor is expecting students to use.

As I recommended in my last column, asking for clarification of the assignment’s requirements is one of the keys to successful completion of the assignment.

Depending on the type of assignment, the professor may want students to use scholarly journal articles, newspaper articles, books, company information or other types of resources.

The library has many databases available that provide a variety of materials for students to use for their course projects. The majority of these databases provide full-text materials, meaning the entire article, e-book or document is available just one click away from the description of the article or book.

Some materials will require a request through interlibrary loan, a system that the library uses to borrow books or request articles for patrons from other libraries around the country and even from other countries.

Now for a little more about the types of materials that these databases contain: scholarly or peer-reviewed journal articles have been reviewed by experts in the field for that particular journal, usually individuals with PhDs or MDs for medical journals.

The articles are reviewed for the quality of the writing as well as the quality of the research, similar to the way professors review student papers. So, peer-reviewed journals are more credible than other sources, like general information you find on the Internet.

Primary sources in history include all documents or media generated during the time period that is being studied by someone who has first-hand knowledge of the events of that time period. A diary from someone who served at the Alamo is a primary source.

Secondary sources are written later by someone who does not have personal knowledge of the events of the time period. So, a book about the battle of the Alamo is a secondary source.

In disciplines that conduct empirical research — observation or experiences recorded from a specific study or experiment — a primary source is the original researcher’s report of the results of the study or experiment.

A secondary source refers to the original study; again, by someone who does not have personal knowledge or experience of the study or experiment.

The library’s databases contain both primary and secondary sources in all disciplines.

Check them out through the library’s website. Once on the library’s home page, click on “online databases”.

And don’t forget to stop by the library and ask for help!

Good luck with your research!

About the author: Stefanie Wittenbach is the recipient of the 2010 I Love My Librarian Award. The award encourages library users to recognize the accomplishments of exceptional public, school, college, community college, or university librarians. To learn more about Wittenbach’s accomplishments at A&M-San Antonio, read the 2010 nomination letter written by Dr. Bill Bush, department chair and interim head of the School of Arts & Sciences.

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