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Ethel K Smith Library

SOC 475: Special Topics in Sociology : Library Primer

How to use this Primer

This Primer is a brief recap of the concepts taught in Research Boot Camp (part of the Gateway 101 curriculum).
Please use this Primer to refresh your memory on these concepts before you begin searching and/or before attending a library instruction session. 

The content in the left column will help you find sources by research planning and building searches. 

The content in the right column will help you interpret sources as primary/secondary/tertiary and as scholarly/popular

Still have questions? Please schedule a research consultation with one of our Reference & Instruction Librarians or swing by the Reference Desk. 

Research Planning

Generate a search terms list.

  • Begin with your research question: 

    In what ways does music articulate the values of American culture at a given time?

  • Identify research terms from the question:

    In what ways does music articulate the values of American culture at a given time?

    Research Terms:      American      Culture      Music       Values

  • Brainstorm synonyms for the research terms:

    American: America, "United States of America," "United States," USA, US
    Culture: society, humanities, civilization 


Remember to practice phrase searching!

  • Use quotation marks " " around research terms that are comprised of more than one word.
  • The quotation marks will keep the words within them together, in the same order, with same spelling. 
    • A search for "United States of America" will yield results about the country whose mainland is located between Mexico and Canada.
    • A search for United States of America (no quotation marks) will yield some results you want, but they will be mixed with a lot of irrelevant stuff, such as North America, United States of Mexico, and United Nations. 

Building Searches

Use Boolean Operators to connect your research terms and build searches.
There are 3 main Boolean Operators: OR, AND, & NOT.


  • Gives results that include any of your search terms
  • Good for connecting synonyms
    • American OR America OR USA


  • Gives results that include all of your search terms
  • Good for connecting research terms
    • America AND culture AND music


  • Excludes unhelpful terms from your search results
  • Use these at the end of a search string with the rest of the search in ( )
    • (America AND culture AND music) NOT classical


Classifying Sources

When searching for sources, you will likely get a lot of results. However, not all of the sources you find are the same type, and not all of them will be used in your research the same way. 


One way to classify sources is by the source's relationship to original ideas and original information. The categories we use for this are Primary sources, Secondary sources, and Tertiary sources

  • Primary sources represent original work and/or document an event at the time of its occurrence. 
    • Photographs, letters, a work of fiction, a table displaying raw data
  • Secondary sources are analyses of/responses to primary sources. Secondary sources may or may not be peer-reviewed.
    • a book review, an article in a peer-reviewed journal
  • Tertiary sources are generally summative in nature; they cover the broad ideas, trends, and themes of a given subject
    • a dictionary, an encyclopedia of American History, Cliff's Notes of Moby Dick

Another way to classify sources is as Scholarly and Popular sources. Both can be used in research, but they cannot be used interchangeably. 

  • Scholarly sources are written by experts in a given field, are often peer-reviewed by other experts in the same field, and are written with an audience of experts in mind.
    • Scholarly sources are great for providing supporting evidence for a claim, explaining an idea, and building on an expert's existing idea.
    • Scholarly journals (peer-reviewed journals), books written by acclaimed experts (with bibliographies/references included).
  • Popular sources are written by a variety of people, but often journalists or professional writers; they are reviewed by general editors (if at all), and are written for a general public audience.
    • Popular sources can be used to articulate a point of view from the public, or for providing a real-life example of a phenomenon or event. They are not as useful when supporting a claim or argument, though.
    • Magazines, newspapers, some books (especially those without bibliographies or references).