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Syracuse University Libraries

Music Research Process

What Sources Do You Need?

Once you decide on a topic, you must decide what types of sources will answer your question, and consequently, support the conclusion in your thesis statement.

  1. What primary sources are available? 
  2. What have other scholars said about my topic?
  3. Are scholarly or popular sources more appropriate for my topic?
  4. Does the age of the source affect my research?  

Websites, just like other text documents or creative output, can be primary, secondary, or tertiary sources.  While reading the chart below, think about how websites fit into all of the categories and descriptions.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Information

Best for research
Good for research
Good for overview or fact checking


Primary sources provide a a first-hand account of an event or person. They are created by witnesses or recording devices during the time period or event being researched.

Secondary sources provide an interpretation, critque, evaluation, or conclusion based upon information from primary sources. They are created by scholars, editors, researchers, professionals, or journalists. Tertiary sources provide a summary, overview, or inventory of secondary or primary sources.
  • Creative output or intellectual property of a research subject (lyrics, score, image, audio, book, blog post)
  • Original documents (diaries, letters, manuscripts)
  • Interviews with or about research subject (audio, video or transcripts)
  • Autobiographies, memoirs
  • Audio or video recording from an event or performance
  • Original research (surveys, experiments, observations)
  • Books that offer criticism or an interpretation of a subject
  • Edited works and scores (unless the editing is the subject of the research)
  • Translations of original works, including lyrics
  • Journal articles, open-access research articles
  • Almanacs
  • Chronologies
  • Guidebooks
  • Textbooks (sometimes secondary)
  • Encyclopedias (sometimes secondary)
  • Wikis
  • Bibliographies
  • Discographies
  • Indexes

Popular vs. Scholarly

Many instructors require the use of scholarly articles in research papers. Scholarly articles are found in peer-reviewed, or refereed, journals. Such journals have editorial boards of experts who accept or reject articles for publication. Therefore, the articles are considered high quality and represent important research in a given field.

Articles from popular magazines or websites do not include the same level of research and are not reviewed in the same way. They often contain stories of interest to a wider audience, but still may be appropriate for certain types of music research, especially when discussing popular opinions or reception of creative works.

In addition to popular and scholarly sources, you will find trade journals (practical information for professionals) and journals of opinion (information expressing a given viewpoint).

For a full comparison, view this Periodical Comparison Chart

Journal Information

Use our The Journal Locator  to information about a journal, including whether it is peer-reviewed and the extent of our electronic holdings.