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7.2 Finding Print, Online, and Field Sources

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the value of your university library to you as a researcher.
  2. Be aware of the different research options that are available online.
  3. Know that you might find some field sources helpful in your research.
  4. Be aware of other online tools that will help you in your research process.

Your status as a student grants you access to your college library, and it is in your best interest to use it. Whether you are using your library online or in person, you will most likely need some guidance so that you know the research options available and how to access them. If you are attending a traditional brick-and-mortar college, the quickest way to learn about your library options is to physically go to the library and meet with a librarian. If you are attending school mostly or completely online, look for online tutorials offered by your college library. College libraries still have print holdings that are worth checking out, but the landscape is quickly going digital. In recent years, libraries have been digitizing their print holdings and spending an increasing percentage of their budgets on acquiring better and richer academic databasesAn extensive collection of related information that is available digitally. with vast holdings you can use for most of your research needs.

Within the array of online options available to you, the academic databases to which your library subscribes are generally more authoritativeDescribing a source that has been edited and often peer reviewed before being accepted for publication. because they have been edited and in many cases peer reviewed before being approved for publication. These sources often appeared in print before being collected in the database. However, databases can take you only so far in your research. If you have questions that need quick answers, especially involving facts or statistics, there’s nothing wrong with using popular search engines like Google or even online encyclopedias like Wikipedia, provided you use them critically. Confirm the truth of the information you find by finding corroboration from at least two other sources, and follow up on the sources listed in the sites to which you are directed. For more on evaluating online sources, see Section 7.5 "Evaluating Sources".

Along with the search engines, databases, and directoriesOnline list of websites relating to given topics., the Internet also offers a variety of additional tools and services that are very useful to you as a researcher. Some of these options include citation builders and writing guides, dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, RSS feedsAn online service that will send you information on a requested topic. (providing subscriptions to specific blogsOnline site where people share opinions in a relaxed environment. and podcasts), collections of famous quotations, government data, stock photo collections, collaboratively produced wikis and websites, and much more. An effective research project will likely combine source material from both academic databases and more popularly available online sites.

In addition to print and online sources, you might also wish to find some field sourcesPrimary source accessed in its natural setting., such as interviewing an expert, sorting through relevant documents, making observations, or attending an event that relates to your topic. For example, if you are researching the effects of inclusion on third grade students with special needs, you could add meaningful information to your paper by speaking with a local educator who has reviewed achievement scores before and after they have received inclusion services.

Key Takeaways

  • You should use your school library services as a starting point for your research project. Your library staff can direct you to the most appropriate online databases for your project.
  • The Internet includes a variety of directories, databases, and search engines that provide excellent sources for academic research.
  • Some of the useful online tools for researchers include citation builders, dictionaries, thesauruses, RSS feeds, quotation sites, writing guides, government sites, stock photo collections, wikis, and blogs.
  • Field sources, such as interviews, documents, observations, and events, often provide meaningful information for research papers.


  1. Provide contact information, including personal name(s), for school library staff you could turn to for help when you start a research project.
  2. Using an annotated bibliography format, list five academic library databases and the URLs for five nonacademic sites that you could use to locate sources for a research paper. For each address, provide a paragraph explaining what the source offers.
  3. Once you’ve gotten to know more about your library’s online databases, use what you already know about popular search engines to decide which would be an easier method of finding reliable, trustworthy sources for the following information: an academic database or a popular search engine?

    1. rates of military service in the United States since World War II
    2. arguments in favor of and against the existence of climate change
    3. studies on the effects of television viewing on infants
    4. average age of first marriage among men and women every year since 1960
    5. proposed solutions to unemployment
    6. the highest grossing films of the last twenty years
  4. Indicate three research topics of interest to you. Then describe a field source for each topic that you could use as a resource.