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What do you already know about the topic?

Who is this research for?

Who does this research benefit?

Who cares about your topic? 

  • Who cares about your will help you figure out what type of research they do. (scientists will perform experiments, doctors may run a randomized controlled trial, a professor might write a literature review, etc)
  • Once you figure the type of resources someone who cares about your topic would create, you can then determine where you will find these resources. (scholarly articles can be found in databases, news articles can be found online, etc)

How is your topic portrayed in the media?

  • Is this a hot-button issue that folks have very differing opinions about?
  • Has your topic been unfairly criticized or wrongly portrayed in the media?

Who has access to information about your topic?

  • How do everyday folks know about it? Are they getting their information solely based on mass media?
  • Misinformation and fake news are symptoms of a lack of access to quality information. (Think of this as an information desert)

What gaps have you noticed in the research? What's missing? Who's missing?

  • This is where your research question can start. How can you address the gap?


Sometimes it can be challenging and confusing to tell the difference between scholarly, peer-reviewed articles and popular articles. I often tell students that if it 'looks boring and sounds boring' it is more than likely a scholarly article!

Once you see a few scholarly articles you will see that they share a look and feel that is very different than magazine articles you might be used to reading.

Scholarly Journals/Articles are:

  • written to inform, report, or make available original research to the rest of the scholarly world
  • written by and for scholars or researchers in a specific subject area or field
  • always going to cite their sources as footnotes, endnotes, or reference lists (bibliographies) at the end of the article
  • full of terminology, jargon, and language specific to the discipline. Readers are assumed to have a similar scholarly background
  • oftentimes put through a strict review process by peers within the same discipline (peer-review)
  • written with an abstract, a methodologies section, a conclusion, and references list



Popular Articles/Magazines are:

  • written to entertain you
  • usually short with catchy titles
  • written by magazine staff or a free-lance writer
  • written WITHOUT cited sources
  • written in a language most everyone can understand
  • full of photographs, illustrations, and graphics
  • full of advertisement meant to entice readers


Here is an example of a scholarly article.

Here is an example of a popular journal/magazine article.


A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study and is the result of original scientific research or observation. Some types of primary sources include:

  • Scholarly Journal Articles: an article reporting new and original research or findings written by the original researcher.
  • Original Documents: diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, etc.
  • Creative Works: poetry, drama, novels, music, art
  • Relics or Artifacts: pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary Sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

  • Textbooks
  • Magazine/Journal Articles: articles which interpret or review previous findings, or which present findings in way more accessible to the general public. They are not written by the original researcher. 
  • Histories
  • Criticisms
  • Encyclopedias

Here is an example of a primary source.

Here is an example of a secondary source.