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ENGL 414

Research Writing

Diving In

Now you have a working research question and you have likely visited your library to seek help from a reference librarian. Ideally, you have also found a faculty mentor in your discipline who can help you through the research process. You are beginning to collect sources and now have to determine what to do with those sources. You will need to ask yourself:

  • How do I read and understand these scholarly sources? 
  • How do I ensure that they are the types of sources relevant to and appropriate for the project I'm working on? 
  • How do I determine which sources I should keep? 
  • How do I know what other sources I might need? 
  • How do I know when I have enough sources? 

This page will help you begin to answer some of these questions. 

I've heard the term "peer reviewed" for years--but what does it REALLY mean?

Peer Review Definition

Use peer reviewed sources!” If you have worked on a research paper in the past, you probably have heard this mandate. But what is peer review? How does it work? And how do you know if your sources are peer reviewed? The items in this box offer definitions of peer review and information on how to recognized peer reviewed sources. Be sure to talk to your research mentor to identify strategies for finding peer reviewed work in your field.


Peer Review, Scholarly and Trade articles

“Learning about Journal Articles”

Journal articles are one common type of scholarly source among many. Learning about their features will help you read them effectively. Watch this video for more information.

How to Read an Academic Article

Here are more tips on how to best read an academic article—a different reading strategy than you might be using now. 

“Rethinking Your Search Strategy”

Many students are trained to identify key terms related to a project and use database searches to find sources. Although this is one feasible search strategy, even a refined search can yield an overwhelming number of results. 

Add a new approach to your search strategy: what some call “the breadcrumb method” or “bibliography mining.” 

  1. First, identify one key source that will be central to your research. 
  2. Scour the bibliography and/or notes of the piece to see what other sources the author(s) of the piece has cited. 
  3. Choose any of those references that might be relevant to your project. Find and read them. 
  4. As a complementary strategy, identify your most promising source. Using google scholar (, enter the source by name in the search bar. In your results, look for the link to “cited by” below the citation for your source (which is probably at the top of the list you will see). Clicking the “cited by” link will take you to a list of scholarship that cited the original source. You can then identify which of these resources are worth tracking down and reading, too.
  5. With this two-part search strategy you are identifying the
    scholarly conversation” related to your topic by tracing what sources are citing what other sources. This approach can yield different—and sometimes more helpful—findings than a key word search alone.

Subject Guide

Anna Bjartmarsdottir's picture
Anna Bjartmarsdottir

“Knowing When You Have Found Enough Sources”

Professional research writers are not given a minimum or maximum number of sources to use in a project. So how do they know when they have enough scholarly support for their work? Here are a few tips: 

  • As you read scholarship as part of your research, you might reach what is called a saturation point. What you are reading starts to seem less “new” and begins to seem more familiar. You recognize references to other scholarship and might already have read that scholarship yourself. Reaching a saturation point suggests that you are beginning to identify the contours of the scholarly conversation. 
  • You have identified and rely on scholarship related to the key argument, claim, or terminology that your project investigates. For example, if I am researching a project on the use of twitter in by #black lives matter activists, I would likely want to read scholarship on twitter (as a social media tool) and the #black lives matter movement—along with other key concepts related to my argument. Each key term might represent a scholarly conversation. Talk to your research mentor to identify what scholarly conversations are most relevant for your project, since you likely won’t be able to research them all. 
  • Follow up on a key source or watershed moment in the scholarly conversation. If you find that one scholar’s work or one key study is cited in nearly everything you read, be sure to find that source and read it on your own. Then identify how the scholarly conversation has used that key source since its publication. For example, you’ll want to know if the study has been challenged or modified. Research is about the never-ending pursuit of knowledge, so researchers are always extending the conversation to build upon prior work. Your research will hopefully capture how a conversation has grown and adapted through various researchers’ work.