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Research Help: Types of Sources

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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
 Examples of Scholarly Resources
Journal of Comparative Psychology Journal of Commercial Biotechnology Econometric Theory Past & Present
Journal of Comparative Psychology Journal of Commercial Biotechnology Econometric Theory Past & Present
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Understanding Primary vs. Secondary Sources




Popular 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
 Examples of Popular Resources
Bloomberg Businessweek National Geographic Runner's World Time
 Bloomberg Businessweek  National Geographic Runner's World  Time 

Scholarly vs. Popular Periodicals

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