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SCI 141: Foundations of Science: Types of Sources

Popular, Trade, or Scholarly?

Three Types of Publications

  1. Scholarly Sources: 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?"  
  2. Popular Sources: 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.  
  3. 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. 

Primary vs Secondary

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
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