A brief summary of what a journal article is about and a quick read in order to decide whether the article is likely to contain information relevant to your research project. The abstract may appear in research databases and, sometimes, in the article itself.

academic argument

The verbal and written argument that academics take part in while arguing that their claims about their research, supported by the research of others, are correct. Collectively, this argument is called the scholarly conversation.  For professors, it takes place in journal articles, conference papers, scholarly blogs, and scholarly books.  But academic arguments that students put forth in research paper, essay, and poster assignments are also part of the scholarly conversation.

academic integrity

According to The Ohio State University, “Academic integrity is a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. From these values flow principles of behavior that enable academic communities to translate ideals into action.” Source: Office of Undergraduate Education web page

academic misconduct

When you don’t use integrity in your academic work. Such misconduct includes submitting plagiarized work, which is work that is not your own.  See a full definition of academic misconduct in the Ohio State University Code of Student Conduct at

active listening

Skills used to encourage people, including those being interviewed, to talk more. The skills often include listening closely, showing that attention is being paid, maintaining eye contact, nodding and making other encouraging gestures, making short comments such as “Then what?,” and asking follow-up questions. There may be different standards for active listening among cultures.

advanced search

A way that many search tools, such as Google, Bing and many library catalogs, have of doing a search in a more complex way than their usual search box. Advanced search usually helps users use Boolean operators or to search particular fields in sources. Look for the Advance Search heading to click on the site.

alternate terms

Alternatives to the first terms that come to mind for main ideas when developing a search statement. For instance, if the term we first think of is peaceful, the alternative term might be warlike.  Alternative terms are often synonyms, anonyms, and singular and plural forms of the main concept term.


A process that carefully examines something, looking at each part separately and together, in order to understand it.


In academic writing, the case you make that your answer to your research question is correct or at least the most reasonable answer. This kind of argument is based on evidence that you find in credible sources.


An acronym that stands for Background, Exhibits or Evidence, Argument, and Method or Theory. These are roles that a researcher/writer can use sources for in a research final project, such as a research paper, as put forth by Joseph Bizup.


One of the factors to be evaluated about a source to determine whether it is credible. Bias decreases information’s credibility. Even in opinion pieces, where authors must show their opinions, authors must use evidence to make their argument.  It’s when authors don’t include evidence or when they leave out important information that we can tell they are using their own likes and dislikes, not evidence, to shape the information they are sharing. That indicates bias. Other clues include: learning that the author has a vested interest in our cooperation with the site or issue, not linking to the original piece of information under discussion, including many strongly worded assertions in the text, and using many exclamation points.

bibliographic citation

Citations, often at the end of a publication, that show where ideas or quotes contributed by others and used in the publication came from. These citations usually include titles, authors’ names, date and place of publication, and other information that would help readers locate the publications. Such citations are usually on pages called Bibliography, References, or Works Cited.  See intext citations

boolean operators

The words AND, OR, and NOT when used with search terms to direct a search to include or exclude certain search results. (In some search boxes, you can use the + symbol for AND rather than the word or the – symbol for NOT rather than the word. In Google you can’t use the word NOT and must use -.)  For instance, if you wanted to find an article about the effects of climate change on the oceans, you might type these terms in the search box: “climate change” AND oceans. (Incidentally, the quotation marks tell Google to search for the words climate change together, as a phrase, instead of searching first for climate and then for change.)  Boolean operators can be used to make advanced searches. See Parentheses around search terms in a search box.


Pointing out in what sources you found each direct quote and where/who the ideas that you paraphrased and summarized in your research paper, essay, or poster came from. The citing may appear at the point of quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing (called in-text citations) and at the end of the document on pages typically called References, Bibliography, or Works Cited. Citations are an integral part of academic integrity and avoiding plagiarism

citation styles

The several sets of rules about exactly how and where to make citations. Examples include Chicago style, the Modern Language Association style (MLA), the American Psychological Association style (APA), American Medical Association style (AMA), and the style of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Disciplines tend to prefer one style over another, so always ask your professors which style they want you to use for your research assignments. Each style appears in a manual or style guide available for free at libraries or for sale online. The rules change periodically, so check online for what’s the latest edition.  A good source for MLA, APA, IEEE, and Chicago styles is Purdue University OWL, although you still need to make sure OWL is using the latest edition.

components of an arguement

The parts of an argument, which are, according to the authors of The Craft of Research: the question; claims about the question; reasons for the claims; evidence for the reasons; acknowledgements of others’ objections, counterarguments, and alternative solutions; and responses to others’ objections, counterarguments and alternative solutions. Collectively, the components are what make a particular communication an argument.

controlled vocabulary

The collection of search terms chosen by experts to be the preferred ones used in a database. Such vocabulary words are sometimes called descriptors.


The protections provided for creators of creative works, beginning in the U.S. Constitution and in the Copyright Act, which are intended to promote the creation of new works. Original works of authorship are protected, among them: students’ research papers and their other original works of authorship; email; literary works; musical works and any lyrics; dramatic works; choreography; pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, motion pictures and audiovisual works, including sound recordings; and architectural works. Rights granted by copyright include the right to: reproduce and distribute the work, prepare derivative works, perform and display the work publicly, and perform publicly a sound recording by means of digital audio transmission. The Ohio State University Libraries’ Copyright Services is a good source to find out how to protect your rights as a creator and how to legally use material copyrighted by others.

Creative Commons

Free and open licenses that make it easier to share and use copyrighted works. Creators still own the copyright but describe the conditions under which they will let others use their works by adopting a particular kind of Creative Common (CC) license. For example, perhaps the license they choose requires the user only to post appropriate credit (including the creator’s name) in order to use it. That’s a much quicker process than the user having to formally ask permission from the creator.  When potential users of the works see the license, they right away know that they have the creators’ permission to use the work under the conditions associated with that particular kind of CC license. You can read more about CC licenses on the CC website. You can search for works with CC licenses at CC Search, flickr, Google Images, YouTube, and the Noun Project.


The degree to which a piece of information can be believed.  Credibility for a source probably cannot be perfect or guaranteed. But if credibility is high, the information is believed to be most likely true and reader/viewers can have confidence in it.

critical thinking

Asking yourself questions about information, an idea, a person, an object, or an event. The intent of the questions is to help you understand more clearly the item and the relationships between items.


“Units of information observed, collected, or created in the course of research” (Erway, Ricky. 2013. “Starting the Conversation: University-wide Research Data Management Policy.” Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.  Data is often assumed to be numbers but they do not have to be.

data visualization

The way data is displayed. A good display makes the data easier to understand and attracts the interest of viewers. But it must also not distort the meaning of the data.

database fields

In a database’s documents, a location where information can be searched. For instance, if you think the title of documents is where the documents are most likely to contain your search terms, you can tell the database to look only in the title field.  You usually have several fields to choose from and can choose combinations of fields in which to look. You are said to have “limited” your search to the fields you choose.

database scope

Information about the specific subject area(s), format, or date range (generally, years covered) of a specialized database. This information can indicate whether the information you’re looking for is likely to be covered in that particular database.

direct quote

Information taken word-for-word from another source and either spoken by you or incorporated into your written work. Quoting someone else directly is acceptable in most cases, sometimes even required.  But you should always name the person you are quoting and the source where you found the direct quote.


A broad academic area of study.  Examples are social sciences, physical sciences, life sciences, mathematics and engineering, humanities, and the arts.


A process undertaken to prove whether something has value. When we evaluate sources, we are trying to figure out whether they are relevant to what we are trying to do and whether they are credible enough to suit our purpose. (For academic writing, they must be highly credible.)


When doing research, the facts and reasoning for why you believe your claim in an argument is true. Most of the evidence students use in their research papers comes from sources

fair use

An exception to copyright that gives people permission to use a copyrighted work under certain conditions. The factors you should consider to determine whether your particular use would be fair use are: (1) purpose and character of use, including whether commercial (i.e. publishing a book) or non-commercial (i.e. using in a classroom assignment); (2) nature of the original material (i.e., is the work published or unpublished? Fact or fiction? Highly creative?); (3) amount and substantiality of the original work (are you using the entire work or just a portion?); (4) effect on the marketplace or on the work’s value (will your use have a financial impact on the creator?). Even if you believe you can use a copyrighted work under Fair Use, you still need to provide a citation.

full-text search

A search in which entire documents within a database are searched, as opposed to only specific fields in documents or metadata about each document.

in-text citations

Pointing out in what sources you found each direct quote you quoted and ideas that you paraphrased or summarized in your research term paper, essay, presentation, or poster.  In-text citations are made right at the point that you used the direct quote, paraphrase, or summarization. In-text citations usually contain the last name of the author you are citing and, in some cases, the date of the source you are citing and/or a specific page number. The sources for which you have in-text citations are listed along with their publication facts at the end of your essay, or research paper.


An educated guess.

information lifecycle

After an event, the various types and formats information that get created about the event as time passes.  Information about the event usually changes and becomes more accurate and more detailed as more information becomes available.  In general, the order in which formats are created is: social media; newspaper, TV, and radio; talk shows on TV and radio; popular magazines; journal articles; books; government documents; print encyclopedias; and bibliographies about the event.

information needs

The reasons you are looking for information. When you are doing an academic research project, those reasons include (1) to find background information, (2) to answer your research question, (3) to convince your audience that your answer is correct or at least the most reasonable answer, (4) to describe the context surrounding your research question for your audience and explain why it’s important, and (5) to report what others have said about your question, including any different answers to your research question.

inquiry-based assignments

College assignments that ask students to consider questions in order to solve problems or explain why something exists, how it works, and/or the effects it has. Students usually need to consult multiple sources to develop their answer or interpretation.

interior monologue

An internal conversation that a person has with himself/herself, they/themselves.


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary,a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.” The Internet contains the World Wide Web.

iterative searching

Searching again and again, adjusting your search statement each time based on the results you produced with the previous statement(s).


Publications that come out periodically (usually quarterly) and most often contain some commentary, reviews of scholarly books, and scholarly research articles that report new research or reviews of previous scholarly research. The reviews of previous research are called literature reviews and, along with the reports of new research, are generally the only scholarly portions of journals and the only portions that get peer reviewed.  Many, but not all, journals are peer reviewed, which means that experts in the field assess the scholarship and contributions made by submitted research articles and suggest corrections before the journal will be willing to publish them. Each journal tends to be focused on a specific discipline or sub-discipline. Sometimes professional associations make the journals they publish available to their members. But most journals are very expensive, and for many scholars, it is libraries that make them available. While journals used to be print publications, today most are digital-only publications.


Search terms that you arrange into a search statement and type into a search box for key word searching.


A mnemonic to help you remember a good strategy for subject searching in library catalogs and some specialized databases. The letters stand for: Keyword search your topic. Identify a relevant item from the results. Select subject terms relevant to your topic from that item’s subject heading. Search using those subject terms. (Sometimes you can just click on a relevant item’s subject headings.)


Terms or standards you can use to narrow or focus your search in a digital database. For instance, you can ask many databases to search only for sources published during a particular time period or in a particular language.


The scholarly conversation (in research articles, conference proceedings, preprints, and scholarly books) about a discipline or part of a discipline.


Information that describes digital information. Without metadata, the web and databases would not be searchable because metadata identifies digital information and gives its location during search.

mobile technology

Digital technology devices, such as smart phones and digital tablets, that you can use while you’re on the go.

objective information

Information that reflects a research finding or multiple unbiased perspectives, instead of reflecting only the author’s own view that doesn’t come from research he/she cites.


In your own work, using the ideas of others by putting them in your own words. This is a way of using your sources when their ideas and meaning is more important than the exact language the author used and when you don’t need to use the author’s preeminent authority to bolster your argument at the moment. Paraphrases require in-text and bibliographic citations of the sources whose ideas you are using.

parentheses around a search term

An advanced search technique that’s useful when you have more than one kind of Boolean operator in your search statement. It lets you give more precise instructions to a search engine than you could otherwise give

peer review

A pre-publication review provided by experts other than the author of a research or literature review article and the editor of the research journal to which the article has been submitted for publication. The experts assess the article, including making sure the article is presented in the context of what is already known, that the methods the researcher used are the right ones, and that the article contributes to the field by reporting new and important content. Based on that assessment, the editor may accept the article or turn it down for publication. If it is accepted, the author is usually asked to make changes. Peer review increases the credibility of many scholarly articles

phrase searching

Within the search box, an instruction to a search engine (Google or BING) to search the terms enclosed by quotation marks in order, instead of separately.  (Reminder: If you use quotation marks, there always have to be more than one word within them because phrases always consist of multiple words.) For instance, if you put Abraham Lincoln in the search box, Google would return all documents that had the word Abraham in them somewhere and the word Lincoln in them  somewhere. Many of those documents would be irrelevant to your search for information about Abraham Lincoln because they are about other Abrahams or other Lincolns. But if you put “Abraham Lincoln” in the search box, Google or BING would return all documents that contain Abraham Lincoln in that order.


Using the work or ideas of others as though they are your own, which means without citing them. If you incorporate others’ ideas or work into your own by using direct quotes, paraphrases, or summaries, you must cite their sources in order for the use not to be considered plagiarism.

popular sources

Sources written for and able to be understood by the general public.  Usually about news and entertainment, popular sources are written by staff writers and reporters and are published, after approval from an editor, by commercial publishers. Popular sources usually contain many advertisements and attractive artwork. They contain no footnotes or references at the end, although substantive popular sources, such as news stories and long form journalism, usually refer to sources in the body of articles.


A way to communicate research findings or data in a visual format. Posters usually contain a brief introduction to the research question or topic, a description of the research method, and a concise summary of the findings, along with supporting graphics or images (charts, tables, photos, etc). The researcher may create a poster in addition to a more formal written report or in place of a report. Posters are often displayed at conferences or symposiums, and the researcher is often available to answer questions or discuss their research with attendees.

precision searching

Using advanced search techniques to find the documents that are likely to give you the information you’re looking for. Those techniques include identifying main concepts and related terms for your search terms, using phrase searching, using parentheses when you have multiple Boolean operators among your search terms, and searching iteratively.

primary source

A term applied with different definitions, depending on the academic discipline. In the humanities and many other disciplines, a primary source is information that is firsthand, in its original form. We get primary source information without it having gone through any filter—no one translated it or told us what it meant. Examples of some sources that are often used as primary sources include diaries, breaking news stories, music and dance performances, artworks, eyewitness accounts, and journal articles that report research for the first time. But even those sources have to be actually used in research in order to become primary sources—nothing just exists as a primary source. The term primary source is used much less often in the sciences. When it does come up, scientists tend to use this term for the source, usually a research journal article, that was most important to their work.

professional sources

Sources that were developed and published, usually by a professional association, with the intent of helping those working in a particular profession. Such sources may be considered credible and therefore acceptable in much academic writing.

public domain

Available to the public without copyright. Publications whose copyright has timed out or that were never copyrighted are said to be in the public domain.

publication formats

The form a publication is in, such as book, video, newspaper article, blog, government document, journal article, website, etc. Connected to those forms are particular conventions associated with their creation. The conventions include not just what elements can be found in a form (advertisements in a newspaper but not a book, for instance), but also how much checking a form undergoes before publication.

publication mode

How close to first-hand information a publication is. Publications are generally called primary sources if they are first-hand information. Publications about primary sources are considered secondhand information and are called secondary sources. Publications (such as guides, handbooks, dictionaries, and timelines) that are made up of third-hand information repackage firsthand and secondhand information and are said to be tertiary sources.

qualitative information

Information that involves a descriptive judgment that uses words instead of numbers. Some examples are gender, country of origin name, and emotional state.

quantitative information

Information that involves a measurable quantity. Examples are length, mass, temperature, and time.

reasons for claims

Why you believe the claims you make in an argument are true.

recognition from others

Indications that people or organizations other than the author appreciate, believe, and value a published work or group of works. Just like blurbs and endorsements on the back of a printed book, those indications include links from others to a website you are evaluating.

related terms

Search terms that are similar in concept to others you consider using. For instance, if you were looking for information about arthritis, it may be helpful to use the search term joint diseases. Sometimes it can be helpful to look in a thesaurus for related terms.


The degree to which a source can help you with your inquiry assignment or research project. If its content is related enough to your topic or research question that you can learn or quote from the source or paraphrase or summarize from it, it is relevant.


As opposed to just compiling information on a subject, an attempt to answer questions or to solve problems and/or develop an expanded or revised perspective on a topic by synthesizing and interpreting information from multiple sources. Those multiple sources could include experimentation or other investigation (such as surveying and qualitative research) that varies by discipline. In doing so, new knowledge is often created. The sciences use the term research only when new knowledge is created.

research assignments

Assignments that require students to answer research questions and/or solve problems by synthesizing ideas they’ve found in the literature—usually a discipline’s scholarly sources--and drawing conclusions from several sources.

research question

The question to be answered by a research project. Such questions cannot be answered by a simple Google search and require synthesizing information from several sources to find the correct or most reasonable answer. Most answers also result in more questions that need research.

roles played by sources

How a writer uses each source in his/her research paper. According to Bizup’s BEAM model, the writer can use quotes, summaries and paraphrases of materials from sources within his/her own paper in these ways: as background information, as evidence or an exhibition of evidence, and as sources to be agreed with or disagreed with. In addition, the writer could use the same method a source used earlier in order to collect data for the paper or the same statistical analysis used by the source. Or, the writer could identify with a school of thought represented by the source.

RSS feed

Stands for Really Simple Syndication and is an easy way to stay up to date about what is being published on one or multiple topics. To receive ongoing links to such updated information, subscribe to RSS on the websites that have information you want to follow.

scholarly publishing

The dissemination of scholarly information, usually through books, preprints, journals, and conference proceedings.

scholarly sources

Sources that contain information involved in the scholarly  conversation that takes place primarily among academics at conferences, presentations and in books, blogs, pre-prints, and journal articles.

search engines

Huge databases of web pages that have been assembled automatically by machines, based on algorithms controlled by humans.

search statements

What you type into a search box. Search statements may include search terms (preferably, nouns), along with devices you can use to give precise instructions for searching: symbols you might use to truncate the search terms, a Boolean operator(s), parentheses if you’re using multiple Boolean operators, and quotation marks around any multiple-word phrases that you’re using.  See search terms; truncation; Boolean operators; parentheses around search terms in a search box

search strategy

A plan for searching in an intentional way: thinking and doing what it takes to find the best results. Search strategies may be very simple for unimportant searches. But for important searches, such as finding sources for a research project, such a plan would involve deciding where to look (sometimes based on who else would need this information so you can look where they would look) and deciding what search statements to use. It also would involve, based on your evaluation of what you find with each search, deciding how you next need to change your search terms to search again and again.

search terms

The words you organize to make a search statement that you type into a search box

search tools

Web-based programs that do online searches to meet a user’s request. A few may be internet directories, but nearly all are search engines or metasearch engines. Directories are lists or catalogs of websites that experts have put into categories. Search engines, such as Google and Bing, are huge databases of web pages that have been assembled automatically by machines. (Huge though Google and Bing may be, many if not most web pages are not available to those search engines.) Metasearch engines use multiple search engines and/or directories for data and then summarize the results for the user. and are examples of metasearch engines. Despite the fact that machines using algorithms are involved in most search tools, it is humans that are responsible for the algorithms and any consequential discrimination, injustice, and misinformation.

secondary sources

Sources that provide second-hand information. That is, they are not the original information but are about the original information. For instance, such sources are not a novel (the original, first-hand information), but are such sources as a book review of the novel or promo copy that tells readers about the novel (both second-hand information about the first-hand information). Another example: an analysis (secondary source) of a piece of legislation (primary source) that appears in a newspaper. One last example: subsequent news coverage of an event (secondary source) after the initial reporting on the event (primary source) was published by the news outlet.

source's neighborhood

The characteristics of a source found on the Internet that collectively tell you what the source is intended to do and how much you should trust its information, effectively determined by the author or publisher’s purpose in publishing the source. Did they intend to inform/educate, persuade, sell, or entertain? When it comes to assessing a source’s credibility, it can be helpful to think that sources that do the same things are clustered in the same neighborhood, just as they intend to be in the physical world. And we can accord digital sources the same credibility that we would a school, an advocacy organization, a store, or a movie theatre in the physical world.


People whom you interview or published texts, images, and data that contain information that a researcher or journalist uses to study something and come to conclusions.

specialized databases

Collections of information on one or more specific subject areas that are searchable. Some are broad and others are narrow in the subject matter they cover, which is often delineated in a section called “scope.” Those databases associated with university libraries are generally intended for academic research, and the information searched for is in academic journal articles. Academic libraries often have hundreds, if not thousands, of these databases.  Academic Search Complete, Scopus, and JSTOR are examples of specialized databases. Also called and library databases.

subject heading searching

A method of searching that can be used in library catalogs and other databases that are said to have a “controlled vocabulary.” Controlled vocabulary databases tag individual documents using chosen vocabulary words so that the documents can be found. To use this method, follow these steps: Keyword search your topic. Identify a relevant item from the results. Select subject terms relevant to your topic from that item’s subject heading, which uses the tags. Search by using those subject headings. The ERIC database for education is an example of one in which you can use subject searching.


A characteristic of some information that makes it the opposite of objective information. Subjective information is the view of one person or one organization and states things in a definite way, even though there may be multiple perspectives or research findings that it doesn’t take into consideration.

substantive popular sources

A subset of popular sources. Sources that are intended for a college-educated or otherwise prepared audience. Such sources are complex and thorough and from a credible publisher, yet easily available to nearly everyone.


One of the techniques you can use to integrate material from a source into your research paper. Summarizing what a source says lets you make another author’s long text piece shorter for your reader, yet still retains the author’s meaning. Your summaries require citations to give credit and avoid plagiarism.


Combining ideas and perspectives to create a new way of thinking about something. Synthesis is generally thought of as the opposite of analysis, although analysis is often necessary in order to synthesize. Synthesis is different from summarization because summarization makes a shorter, concise version of something that exists, while synthesis makes something new.

tertiary sources

Sources that provide third-hand information. That is, they are not the original or primary source (say, a novel) and are not second-hand information (such as a book review of that novel), which is always about the original source and usually by someone other than the creator of the original source. Instead, tertiary sources abstract, compile, digest, or otherwise organize primary and secondary sources. Examples are dictionaries, encyclopedias, guides, and handbooks. Tertiary sources are those you usually wouldn’t read from beginning to end.                      


The collection of words that can be used to search in databases with a controlled vocabulary. Library collections usually have controlled vocabularies. Also, online or print collections of synonyms where you can look for additional search terms when you are searching in databases or search engines without controlled vocabularies.


The answer to your research question in your research project.


A search technique that enables the searcher to widen the range of documents found by a search statement. Unlike what you might think, that happens by shortening a search term to the point its letters and a symbol (usually ? or *) tell the database or search engine to search for more words than the word stem left in the search statement would seem to indicate. For instance, if you truncated the word observation into a word stem like observ and added the symbol *, using that as a search term would get you documents that include the words observe, observes, observer, observers, observing, observation, observatory, etc. The symbols ? and * used for truncation are often called wildcards.

web search engines

Huge databases of web pages that have been assembled automatically by machines that choose the webpages and their order according to algorithms. Google and Bing are examples. Humans write the algorithms and ultimately determine which web pages are included in the databases that search engines search.


Used in the advanced search technique called truncation, a question mark or asterisk that takes the place of a letter or letters within in a key word search term to broaden the search.

world wide web

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, “a part of the Internet accessed through a graphical user interface and containing documents often connected by hyperlinks.” The WWW is within the Internet.


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Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research Copyright © 2015 by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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