SOURCES FOR A RESEARCH PAPER
The sources that you might use for a history research paper can be
divided into primary and secondary sources.
A primary sources is any item that has a direct
connection to the topic you are studying.
Thus, if you are studying Abraham Lincoln, primary sources would
include anything that Lincoln wrote or anything written about him by persons
who knew him. These written
materials might have been published and thus available in libraries; if
unpublished, the original manuscripts are housed in public and private
archives and libraries (or in the personal collections of descendants or of
manuscript collectors). In
addition to written documents, primary sources for various topics can include
coins, clothing, buildings, battlefields, music, photographs, paintings, and
Secondary sources are those items not directly connected to the topic
being studied. A biography of
Abraham Lincoln written by a history professor in 1995 would be a secondary
source, for that historian had no direct connection to Abraham Lincoln.
In writing the book, however, the historian would have used many
Ideally, a student writing a history research paper should use a
combination of primary and secondary sources.
If you are studying Abraham Lincoln, you should
make your own analysis of the Gettysburg Address and his other writings
while also using the insights of historians who have
written about Lincoln.
How many primary and secondary works should you consult?
There is no easy way to answer that question.
The proper amount will depend in part on the topic and on the
length of your paper. A ten-page
paper written as part of a History course will involve less research than a
much longer senior thesis or honors project.
Consult with your professor regarding the amount of research that will
be expected for your assignment.
Written Materials for Your Topic
Some topics (for example, on state or local history) might involve interviewing
people, visiting museums to look at artifacts, traveling to an
archive to read an unpublished manuscript, or walking over the grounds of a
cemetery or a battlefield. Most
often, however, a student working on a paper during a semester will be using
written materials found in a library or on the Internet. The
discussion below therefore concentrates on the kind of work that a typical
undergraduate student might need to perform.
Once you have selected a topic for a research paper, how do you begin to
find books and articles? This can
be a daunting prospect at the very beginning of a project, when you don’t
know the name of any author or the title of any book or article on the topic.
Here is a brief outline of some of the more common ways of accumulating
a list of materials. Students should be aware that their research is not limited
to books and articles located in Friedsam Memorial Library.
If you find a reference to something not available in our library, you
can order it from interlibrary loan
via email: Interlibrary Loan
via email: Interlibrary Loan
Look in the text books assigned for your course.
Very often these books have bibliographies or guides to further
reading. There you might find
a reference to some books and articles that can get you started.
Consult a general encyclopedia, such as the Encyclopedia
there can give you a brief introduction to your topic and perhaps some
guides to further reading. Note:
Encyclopedias are useful in getting one started on a topic, but generally
are not considered “major” sources for your final paper.
In other words, don’t quote from encyclopedias or include them in
your bibliography. Beware of Wikipedia.
Hackers can change entries easily in order to fool readers.
Beware of Wikipedia. Hackers can change entries easily in order to fool readers.
Go to the online catalog for Friedsam Memorial Library. If you don’t know the names of authors or the titles of books on your topic, do a keyword search. In other words, search for a word or phrase (eg, “Holocaust,” or “American Revolution,” or “slavery”). The Friedsam system will then give you a listing of all books that contain the word in the title or in the description of the book. You should do keyword searches using several different terms to ensure that you are retrieving references to all books related to your topic. If, for example, your topic is the Holocaust, you might also try keyword searches for terms like “final solution,” “Jews,” or “Auschwitz.”
Go to the online databases for other, larger libraries.
The holdings in Friedsam Memorial Library are excellent for a
university of our size, but our library is not nearly as large as those of
major universities. The
catalogs of thousands of libraries worldwide are available on the
Internet. The two that I recommend most highly are those of the Library
of Congress and Harvard University. Why
should a St. Bonaventure student want to use Harvard’s catalog?
The reason is that Harvard, the Library of Congress, and other huge
libraries will have many more books than does Friedsam.
You can go to the online catalogs of Harvard or the Library of
Congress, do a keyword search on “Holocaust,” and find many more books
beyond those possessed by Friedsam.
If you find a reference to a book in Harvard or the Library of
Congress, take note of its author, title, publisher, year.
Then check to see if the book is in Friedsam.
If it is not in Friedsam, you can order it via interlibrary loan.
Library shelves. When you go into the Friedsam stacks to find a particular book, be sure to examine the other books on the shelf.
Friedsam Memorial Library subscribes to several online databases
that are extremely useful for finding articles on a wide array of
historical topics. These include JSTOR, EbscoHost, Lexis-Nexis, and
numerous others. To see the full list go to:
These include JSTOR, EbscoHost, Lexis-Nexis, and numerous others. To see the full list go to: Online Databases.