Research Guides

Beyond Wikipedia: Background & Reference Sources

Build Your Research Skills

The Oxford Guide to Library Research is a valuable tool for unlocking the universe of sources available in libraries and online. 

"Presenting various schools of thought ... Going to the Sources ... explores the dynamic, nature, and professional history of research papers, and shows readers how to identify, find, and evaluate both primary and secondary sources for their own writing assignments."  (From the intro to the 6th edition.)

The Craft of Research walks you the entire research process, from coming up with a topic to writing up your results, and offers guidance on organizing your thoughts around research. 

"From Reliable Sources is ... an overview of the techniques historians must master in order to reconstruct the past. Its focus on the basics of source criticism, rather than on how to find references or on the process of writing, makes it an invaluable guide ..."  (Publisher's summary)

Learning to Do Historical Research is a user-friendly online research primer that follows the steps laid out in The Craft of Research.

The Research Question

The authors of The Craft of Research devised a three-step formula you can use to develop research question worth answering.  Without a good question, you'll just be gathering data.  Fill in the blanks to focus your efforts and build a research question of significance.

1. Topic: I am studying ______________
2. Question: because I want to find out what/why/how ____________
3. Significance: in order to better understand ______________

Learn More:  The Importance of a Good Research Question

(SourcesThe Craft of Research; Learning Historical Research, Sources: Manuscripts and Archives)

Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding and Detecting Plagiarism:  A Guide for Graduate Students and Faculty prepared by the Graduate Center's Office of the Provost and the Office of the VP for Student Affairs is a comprehensive guide that will help you avoid plagiarism.

Also see the Purdue OWL:  Avoiding Plagiarism online tool for practical advice and tips.


Consult CUNY's Fair Use and Copyright guide for help making independent, informed decisions about copyright compliance and educational fair use. 

Evaluating Sources

Good scholarship requires careful reading and critical analysis of information.  Whether you are using primary, secondary, or reference sources in print or online, be sure to evaluate them closely.   

Following are basic evaluation criteria, adapted from The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell, that can be applied to all types of sources:

Author Authority 
Who created the item?  What is his or her affiliation?  

Audience and Purpose
Who is the intended audience?  Why was the item created?

Accuracy and Completeness
Is the evidence reliable?  Are the important points covered?

Footnotes and Documentation
Are the author's sources clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?

Perspective and Bias
How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?

Citing & Quoting

For information on how to cite sources, how to format citations using various styles such as APA or Chicago, and how to use tools for managing your citations, see our Citation Managers & Style Guides research guide.