IV. Research Terms

DOCUMENTATION identifies sources referred to and cited as evidence in a document.

APA: Documentation style of the American Psychological Association which is widely used in the social sciences. Major sections of the APA documented essay include title page, abstract, main body, and references. While footnotes and endnotes are sometimes used, in-text citations are the primary mode of documentation. 

MLADocumentation style of the Modern Language Association which is widely used in the liberal arts and the humanities.   In-text citations are used along with limited footnotes and endnotes. A works cited page includes the list of references used for the essay. (Click here for a handout that explain some of the main differences between MLA and APA documentation.)

Chicago Manual of Style: Documentation style from the University of Chicago Press, which is used both in the humanities and the social sciences. A bit more complex than MLA or APA, the two modes of documentation include the in-text author/date system and the notes system.

Turabian: Documentation style which is much like the Chicago Manual of Style with slight modifications. There are two modes of documentation: notes/bibliography style and in-text citations/reference list style. The first is used in literature, history and the arts. The latter is used in physical, natural, and social sciences.

Some disciplines use the documentation style of the publications or associations in their field. Chemistry, for example, uses American Chemical Society (ACS) documentation.

EMPIRICAL DATA or EVIDENCE is proof for an outcome that withstands challenge, data that can be verified or disproved. It is based on testing and experience and observation. in the sciences and mathematics, empirical data follows a hypothesis through stages of inquiry, whether in a laboratory of physical testing or a logical train of thought, to a conclusion that confirms the hypothesis or rejects it in order to develop a new hypothesis. Empirical evidence (direct observations or experiences) can be analyzed quantitatively or qualitatively:

QUALITATIVE DATA is data that can be observed but not measured (by smell, taste, color, appearance, and/or quality). (Compare to QUANTITATIVE DATA.)

QUANTITATIVE DATA is data that can be measured or counted (such as length, height, cost, temperature, area, sound levels, etc.) (Compare to QUALTITATIVE DATA.)

FIELD RESEARCH is research conducted outside the classroom, which may include observations, surveys, and/or interviews. (See PRIMARY RESEARCH.)

A HYPOTHESIS is a tentative assumption based on theory that is to be tested logically with empirical consequences. It is typically an unproven idea or theory that leads to further examination or discussion.

INFORMATION LITERACY: Information literate students can recognize an information need, find, select, locate and evaluate the information they need, and incorporate what they discover competently and responsibly in any field. Information literate students should be able to demonstrate competencies in formulating research questions and in their ability to use information.

A SYNTHESIS is a combination of parts of different things into a whole.

 A THESIS can be synonymous with a dissertation (as a Ph.D. thesis). More often in composition classes a thesis refers to the main point, purpose, or theme of a piece of writing and is often referred to as a thesis statement as a proposition to be argued.

The concept of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis specifically refers to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Hegel. The thesis presents a proposition; the antithesis is the opposite of the thesis, a reaction to the proposition; and the synthesis resolves the conflict between the two by recognizing their common properties and forming a new proposition.

PLAGIARISM is presenting the words or ideas of another as one’s own work or ideas. All directly quoted material must be properly cited, using the documentation style preferred by the discipline. Plagiarism "includes but is not limited to borrowing, downloading, cutting and pasting, and paraphrasing without acknowledgement, including from online sources, or allowing a person’s academic work to be submitted as another’s work" (from Appalachian State University’s ACADEMIC INTEGRITY CODE).


PRIMARY SOURCES are original materials that are contemporary to the time period being studied (an original from that time) which give first-hand knowledge of the topic. Also, any source retrieved through FIELD RESEARCH, including interviews, surveys, and observations, which address the research topic from an original perspective. Some teachers use the term PRIMARY RESEARCH to refer to FIELD RESEARCHPrimary sources include letters, speeches, diaries, audio recording, videos, photographs, newspaper accounts, historical artifacts, maps, debates, public records, and official government documents.

SECONDARY SOURCES are sources that address, discuss, analyze, or comment on information previously presented elsewhere (primary sources). Secondary sources are not evidence, but commentary on and discussion of evidence. These are often referred to as “print sources” and can include online sources as well as books, magazines, newspapers, journals, databases, biographies, reviews, commentary, and journal articles.

TERTIARY sources consist of information which is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources. Examples include almanacs, bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, manuals, guidebooks, textbooks, and indexes.

In History and other fields, the same source can be considered a primary or secondary source depending on the focus of what is being written. If a historian is writing about the war in Afghanistan, an article may be seen as a secondary source if it is used to support or illustrate an argument; but if the same article were used to examine the writing about the war, it would be considered a primary source. The context and the way a source is used determines whether it is a primary, secondary or tertiary source. (Go to University of Maryland library for more information.)

Click here to view a library video on PRIMARY and SECONDARY SOURCES.

POPULAR SOURCES are typically written by journalists for the general public. They are written in a conversational style and are meant to entertain or persuade.

SCHOLARLY SOURCES are written by and for academic audiences and researchers. They usually are researched articles that are more technical in style and tone and are peer-reviewed. Their purpose is to educate, and they contain a bibliography or list of references.

Click here to view a video on POPULAR and SCHOLARLY SOURCES.

Contact Us

For information about the Writing Across the Curriculum Program please contact Director Georgia Rhoades at (828) 262-2075 or e-mail at rhoadesgd@appstate.edu

Writing Across the Curriculum Program
Appalachian State University
253 Anne Belk Hall
ASU Box 32033
Boone, NC 28608-2033

(828) 262-2075 (office)
(828) 262-2032 (fax)

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