C. Preliminary Research


  • Determine what kinds of sources you’ll need.
  • Determine how you will find those sources.
  • Get a sense for how much information is out there on your topic.

A bit of preliminary research will help you plan out, draft, and ultimately write your paper.

First, determine what kinds of sources you’ll need for your paper. The type of sources you need depend on the kind of paper you’re writing.

Primary sources

are first-hand accounts of something that happened. They include things like research studies, diaries, and letters.

Secondary sources

are commentary or analysis. They are normally written by an expert on the topic. Some examples of secondary sources are textbooks, magazines, and academic journals.

Your paper may contain a mixture of primary and secondary sources. Good papers typically have a variety:

  • If you’re writing about the transformation of Renaissance art over time, your sources will probably include paintings (primary) and articles written by art experts (secondary).
  • If you’re writing about differences in the military strategy between the Allied and Axis forces in World War II, your sources will probably be a mix of diaries (primary), newspapers (secondary), government documents (secondary), and expert commentary (secondary).

Once you have an idea of what kind of sources you need, think about the best way to find those sources.

Source Way(s) of finding
General information Search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo), Wikipedia
Newspapers EBSCO
Magazines EBSCO
Books Google Books
Scholarly articles Google Scholar
Academic websites Sweet Search, Google

Perform a quick search to assess how much volume is available on your topic. Is there enough? Are you able to find credible sources? If not, you may have to refine your topic.

Tip: If you’re writing an English paper, you might just use a single text–the book, play, or poem you’re reading in class



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