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Identify Resources

The Library has many resources available for your research. Choose resources based on the type of information you need and the resources required for your assignment.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources

The distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources is important because it is the distinction between an original source vs. sources that interprets other original sources.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original documents or first-hand accounts. Journal articles are considered primary sources when they report the findings of original research by the original researcher. Seminal work is a primary source and is original work by a researcher or theorist that is influential on other, later works. You will want to locate primary sources in peer reviewed journals located through our research databases.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources are interpretations of primary sources. They are a step removed because someone else has interpreted, analyzed, and/or drawn conclusions from the original source. Examples include most books, journal articles that analyze previous research studies, literature reviews, and abstracts.

Tertiary sources

The information in tertiary sources has been interpreted several times and is far removed from its original source. Encyclopedias are considered tertiary sources.


Periodicals: Journals, Magazines, & Newspapers

Search for articles in the Research Databases.




Journal articles contain scholarly research and are written by scholars who specialize in a particular field of study. Journal articles focus on very specific topics. (Example: You will not find basic symptoms of autism in a journal article, but you may find a specific study evaluating the effect of picture stories on the development of social skills in children with autism.) 


Use journals to find scholarly research, original research studies, and literature reviews. Peer reviewed articles are reviewed by a board of fellow scholars before they are published. 




Magazine articles contain general interest and/or news information. Magazine articles are written by journalists, and they are intended for a general audience. Use magazines to find popular or general interest information.




Newspaper articles contain up-to-date information about current events. Newspaper articles are written by journalists, and they are intended for a general audience. Specialized newspapers such as Education Week provide national coverage of education-related topics.


Books can be found on virtually any topic and written for any audience. They may be available in print or electronic format.

Search for books in the Library Catalog. (We also have ebooks. Once in the catalog, click the ebrary icon to view the ebook.)

General information

    Some books provide general information and facts on a topic.

Specialized information

    The library collects books that focus on specialized topics so that you have resources to use as supplements to textbook readings when doing research projects. For example, we may not have the newest Education textbooks, but we do have many books that focus entirely on educational theory and practical school management topics. Use these books when you need a lot of information on a topic.

Reference Books: Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, etc.

Use reference books when you are not yet familiar with a topic and need to find some basic facts or background information to help you get started. Reference books contain short, concise entries on a variety of topics. The information you find in reference books may give you some ideas for searching other resources as you explore your topic in more detail.

Example: A short reference book entry might mention a type of teaching strategy used with children with autism. You might then search the library catalog for books that explain the strategy in more detail. You might also search the research databases to find journal articles that have published research studies in which that strategy was used.

Reference books are published in print and electronic format. Search for reference books in the library catalog or browse them in the Reference section of the library. 

Encyclopedias contain factual articles covering a variety of subjects. The articles provide a brief overview of the topic. They do not (and cannot) provide all of the detailed facts associated with each topic.

    • General encyclopedias contain short entries on a very wide variety of topics. (Example: Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    • Subject encyclopedias limit entries to a specific subject area. (Example: Encyclopedia of Special Education)

    Dictionaries contain definitions of words and terms.

    • General dictionaries include definitions of words used in a particular language.
    • Subject dictionaries include definitions of terminology used in a particular subject area or profession.

    There are many other types of reference books, all available in our reference collections. Examples include handbooks, manuals, directories, almanacs, and atlases.


    Use the following criteria to evaluate the credibility of information you find on the Web. (Check with your professor to determine whether websites are appropriate sources to use before you start your research.)


      What are the author's qualifications for writing on the subject?


      How reliable and free from error is the information?


        Is the information presented with a minimum of bias?


          Is the information current, and can you tell when it was published?

        Check the domain (.com, .edu, .gov, .org, etc.) Some domains are restricted to certain types of organizations, while others may be bought or sold by anyone. .edu and .gov are limited to educational and government organizations. There are no limitations on .com and .org. Always be aware of who is publishing the website and where the content is coming from.

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