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Academic Research : Evaluating Resources

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Evaluating Resources

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Section 1: Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary

Section 2: Popular vs Scholarly Publications

Section 3: Evaluation Checklist

Learn more about types of sources and evaluating information by visiting
the Evaluating Resources guide.

Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary


In general, there are three types of sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  It is important to understand these information types and to know when each source is appropriate to use in coursework.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based.  These sources are usually a document or result that is being reported first hand.  Primary sources are original sources that are not interpretations made by someone else. 

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Works of Fiction
  • Diaries 
  • Interviews
  • Official Documents (census data & legal texts)
  • Objects (archaeological findings)
  • Numeric Data
  • Original Research & Fieldwork 

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are sources that describe or analyze primary sources.  These sources value, discuss, or comment on the primary source, and use primary sources to create their own work. 

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Reference Materials (dictionaries & encyclopedias)
  • Book or Article Reviews
  • Research Articles that Interpret, Review, or Synthesize 

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary Sources are used to organize and locate primary and secondary sources.  These sources summarize and compile fact and knowledge produced by others.  Tertiary sources often assemble both primary and secondary sources together, and are used for quick access to facts.  Note that not all sources within this category are suitable for scholarly writing. 

Examples of Tertiary Sources

  • Textbooks
  • Study Guides
  • Indexes and Other Classification Systems

Popular vs Scholarly Publications 


There are three types of publications when it comes to periodicals.  Periodicals are magazines or newspapers published at regular intervals.  Below, the three types are explained and a table shows the differences between the three. 

Scholarly Sources
Scholarly sources are intended for academic use with specialized vocabulary and extensive citations.  They are often peer-reviewed and help to answer the question "so what?/why does it matter?"  

Popular Sources
Popular sources are intended for the general public, and are typically written to entertain, inform, or persuade.  They help to answer "who, what, when, and where" questions, and range from research-oriented to propaganda-focused.  

Trade Publications 
Trade publications share general news, trends, and opinions within a certain industry.  They are not considered scholarly, because they do not focus on advanced research nor are they peer-reviewed, even though they are generally written by experts. 

Evaluation Check List

When determining whether or not a source should be used, you must ask questions about the resource using a critical eye.  Use the criteria listed below to efficiently identify and evaluate information resources.

Accuracy or Credibility 

  • Is the information provided based on proven facts?
  • Is it published in a scholarly or peer-reviewed publication?
  • Have you found similar information in a scholarly or peer-reviewed publication? 

Author or Authority 

  • Who is the author?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable university or organizations? 
  • What is the author's educational background or experience? 
  • What is their area of expertise? 
  • Does the author/publisher provide contact information?

Coverage or Relevance

  • Does the information covered meet your information needs?
  • Is the coverage basic or comprehensive? 
  • Is there an "About Us" link that explains subject coverage?
  • How relevant is it to your research interests? 


  • When was the information published? 
  • When was the website last updated? 
  • Is timeliness important to your information needs?

Objectivity or Bias

  • How objective or biased is the information?
  • What do you know about who is publishing this information?
  • Is there a political, social, or commercial agenda? 
  • Does the information try to inform or persuade?
  • How balanced is the presentation or opposing perspectives? 
  • What is the tone of language used? (angry, sarcastic, balanced, educated)

Sources or Documentation 

  • Is there a list of references or works cited?
  • Is there a bibliography? 
  • Is there information provided to support statements of fact? 
  • Can you contact the author to ask for and receive the sources used?

Publication and Website Design 

  • How well designed is the website?
  • Is the information clearly focused?
  • Are the bibliographic references and links accurate, current, credible, and relevant? 
  • Are there contact addresses for the authors and publishers available from the site?

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