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Secondary Research

Research is defined by many academic disciplines, such as English or History, as primarily a textual process.  In other words, some researchers (commonly called "scholars") focus on texts—that is, on responding to them, critiquing them, or in rereading them with a particular theory in mind, such as Capitalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Deconstruction, Modernism, Postmodernism. Additionally, scholars can develop their work in response to everyday experiences, issues in the popular culture, the media, and the Internet. Beyond debate and logic, scholars lack a way to prove one idea or approach is superior to any other.

Identify the ethical responsibilities of authors. Understand intellectual property and copyright.

In order to avoid inadvertent plagiarism or academic dishonesty, you must understand intellectual property and copyright. In our digital age, where users can easily download information, we must consider these issues from an ethical perspective as well.

Sources for a research essay can be seen as a web of people talking to each other. Although sources may not seem alive to you, they represent their authors' unique identities and opinions, which makes conversations among them not only possible but also lively. Similar to people who may have different types of conversation, sources may converse with each other: they may support, complement, conflict with, or attack each other's opinions. 

Writers do not make their claims in an enormous blank room where no one else is and nothing else has ever happened. Writers make their claims in the real world where people with other opinions, values, beliefs, and experiences live. To make a claim is to enter into a conversation with these people.

The rhetorician Kenneth Burke once famously described this as a parlor or a party to which you have come late to find out that people are already in heated discussions about a topic.

Here are some of the standard questions that academic readers ask when reviewing research reports:

Here are some of the standard questions that academic readers ask when reviewing research reports:

  1. Is the source a first-hand or second-hand account? That is, are the authors reporting results of their own research or reviewing someone else's work?
  2. Is the source of publication credible? (For example, an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine would influence most physicians' opinions about a surgical procedure far more easily than an essay in a biweekly community newspaper.)

When you synthesize your research, part of what you’re doing is deciding how much you accept, question, or reject the claims that your sources make—in other words, you’re finding your position in an ongoing conversation. When you start to write about that research, you need to figure out how to show that position, even as you quote, summarize, or paraphrase from your sources.

Textual research is a complex process, and it does not end with identifying some appropriate sources. A text, once identified as useful, can be the starting point of a vein of useful resources that stretch across databases, journals, and fields.  This article will help you figure out what to do once you get through the database and start finding articles that may be useful. Citeable sources abound both in print and online, and the challenge of any researcher, new or experienced, is to determine what information in which databases are useful.