Sunday, June 29, 2008

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When writing a research paper, you may be asked to use primary sources. Another assignment may require use of both primary and secondary sources. What are these types of sources? How do you distinguish between the two?

Primary sources are original materials such as diaries, interviews, letters, original documents, photographs, and patents. They are original items on which other research materials (such as articles and reports) are based. Primary sources are especially valuable in that they originated during the time period being studied and have not been filtered by interpretation or evaluation. Secondary sources are materials such as journal articles, encyclopedias, biographies, and essays that describe, interpret, analyze and evaluate primary sources.

Sometimes it may be difficult to identify a source as primary or secondary. For example, newspaper articles can be either a primary or secondary source: a newspaper article from 1871 reporting on the Great Chicago Fire would be a primary source; but an article from 2004 that describes popular myths about that fire would be a secondary source. If you are struggling to define a resource, a helpful rule of thumb is to think of primary sources as "first-hand" materials and secondary sources as "second-hand" accounts.

For more information on primary and secondary sources, see the Online Study in Information Literacy.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Using the Biography Resource Center

While working on a research project have you ever come across the name of a person you needed to know more about? One solution is to use Gale's Biography Resource Center. You can find information on more than 300,000 individuals and their contributions to areas of knowledge such as science, business, politics, government, history, entertainment, sports, the arts and literature.

The easiest way to look up a person is to use the name search. You can also identify names of prominent figures by occupation, nationality, gender, and other characteristics by using the biographical search. This is particularly useful, for example, when you start a research project and seek examples of prominent figures from a particular country, culture or realm of expertise.

For each biographical profile, there is a wealth of information organized under four main tabs: biographies drawn from authoritative reference books; brief biographies; magazine and news articles from popular sources; and links to web sites. While not a source of in-depth scholarly information suitable for inclusion in most college-level research papers, the Biography Resource Center is an easy way to look up basic biographical facts.

To use this resource, go to the library's home page at and click on the link for Resources by Subject (or by title) in the left column.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Mine Local Library Resources

As you already know, despite all the hype about the vastness of the web, not everything is available online. This includes a majority of the academic level books and journals, especially those from before the 1990's, that you'll need to complete your research projects. Your next step? Here are some options to consider:
  1. The SUNY Open Access Policy allows Empire State College students, faculty and staff to access State University of New York two and four-year college libraries. By showing your Empire State College photo ID card, you may use some of the resources at other SUNY campus libraries. Keep in mind that library privileges vary from campus to campus. While most SUNY libraries do allow Empire State College students to borrow books, call the library ahead of time to find out if you can use their ILL service to borrow a book from another library, if needed. (Note, a similar agreement is in place with the CUNY libraries in New York City.)
  2. Another option is to visit the county community college where you live. Sometimes county residents are entitled to full library privileges. Again, check with the reference librarian to see if you can request items via ILL.
  3. If you are not close to a SUNY library, locate an academic library nearby and determine what services are available to residents of the local community. Consider a membership subscription. Most institutions offer an annual membership for a reasonable fee. In addition to borrowing privileges, membership may include ILL services.
Tips when using other libraries:
  • To determine if a local library has a specific item you want, use WorldCat and its "libraries worldwide" feature (on the search results page) to see if a library near you has the book or journal you need on its shelves.
  • Call ahead to make sure your local library will allow you to use their resources. Access levels can differ by library.
  • Make sure you copy/print the full citation for the item(s) you need. This will help you find the item on the shelves faster.
  • Please be courteous and return any borrowed materials promptly after use.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Format References Using Citation Machine

We want to highlight a web site that can save you time learning how to format references for a wide variety of print and electronic resources.

Use the Citation Machine ( if you need to create MLA or APA bibliographies and parenthetical references. The site is especially helpful if you are unsure how to write citations for traditional sources, such as books, articles, web pages and full-text articles obtained from our library research databases.

To make the best use of this site, make sure you have the full citations for all your source materials with you before you begin. Then select a template for a particular type of resource and complete the web form. Once the reference is displayed, you will have to cut and paste it into your word processor. Keep in mind that special formatting, such as italics and underlining, may not transfer properly, and that citations to be used for bibliographies will not have the proper indentation.

Despite these shortcomings, the Citation Machine when used with a print copy of Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference, 5th edition or Diane Hacker's Research and Documentation Online web site to check these details, you will be on your way to mastering the art of citing your sources.