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Primary, Secondary, Tertiary
In general, there are three types of resources or sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary. It is important to understand these types and to know what type is appropriate for your coursework prior to searching for information.
- Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based, including:
- original written works – poems, diaries, court records, interviews, surveys, and original research/fieldwork, and
- research published in scholarly/academic journals.
- Secondary sources are those that describe or analyze primary sources, including:
- reference materials – dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and
- books and articles that interpret, review, or sythesize original research/fieldwork.
- Tertiary sources are those used to organize and locate secondary and primary sources.
- Indexes – provide citations that fully identify a work with information such as author, titles of a book, artile, and/or journal, publisher and publication date, volume and issue number and page numbers.
- Abstracts – summarize the primary or secondary sources,
- Databases – are online indexes that usually include abstracts for each primary or secondary resource, and may also include a digital copy of the resource.
~ Mary Woodley, CSUN Oviatt Library
Scholarly sources are written or edited by scholars who tend to write about original research and are written within specific conventions.
A scholarly source:
- Is a publication, such as a journal, that includes papers and articles, which record and discuss the results of original research
- Is written by and for faculty, researchers or scholars (physicists, historians, economists, psychologists, etc.)
- Uses scholarly or technical language
- Usually contains longer articles about research
- Includes full citations for sources
- Qualifications/credentials of the author(s) are given in the paper
- Are often refereed or peer reviewed
Understanding Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Sources considered to be popular fit into a range of sources that do not qualify as scholarly and may or may not include analysis.
A popular source:
- Is a publication, such as a newspaper or magazine that you could buy in a grocery store
- Is often illustrated with colorful pictures and advertisements. Is many times written by journalists or professional writers for a general audience
- Uses language that is easily understood by general readers and is written for the public
- Rarely gives full citations for sources, though sources may be quoted
- Is usually shorter than journal articles
Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals
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