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English 121 - Writing Research Papers

Thinking About Kinds of Information - Source Types and Where to Find Them

For certain research questions you may want to find certain sources of information. Some of those categories include:

Reference Sources like those you listed under the Background tab, which include encyclopedias, specialized dictionaries, handbooks (The main database we suggest is Gale E-Books)

Articles in Newspapers and/or Magazines: these are articles that are popular in nature. Direct, clear, easy to understand sources written for the general public (Databases: Readers Guide Full Text,  or MasterFile Complete).

Peer-Reviewed (Scholarly, Refereed) Articles from Journals: in other situations you may need very detailed, expert analysis of a subject. Articles of this sort are typically scholarly in nature. (Database: Academic Search Complete)

Below are several videos that go over the basic differences between popular and scholarly articles. Please watch them then continue down to an overview of Primary and Secondary Sources.

Academic Journal? Scholarly Article? Article Database?

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Primary and Secondary Sources

Most simply put, a primary source is original research or the first appearance of an idea or theory. Historical artificats are also considered primary sources.  Some databases will allow you to limit to primary sources.  Some primary sources include:
    •    Original Research, Such as a clinical trials or randomized controlled trials that studies a disease or a drug or treatment on a disease
    •    Newspaper articles written at the time
    •    Original and/or historical documents, such as letters, diaries, autobiographies, speeches , birth certificates, marriage license, patents, trial transcripts
    •    Maps
    •    Film footage, sound recordings, and photographs
    •    Statistics
    •    Works of art, artifacts, buildings, fiction, poetry, or plays 
    •    Interviews and proceedings of meetings 
    •    Dissertations  (can also be secondary)


Secondary sources often interpret and comment on, or build upon primary sources.  Some databases will allow you to limit to secondary sources.  These are some examples of secondary sources:
    •    Biographies
    •    Journals articles that are not primary sources
    •    Book reviews
    •    Review articles
    •    Practice Guidelines used in medicine, nursing, and psychology
    •    Print bibliographies and bibliographic databases, such as Academic Search Premier, PubMed, and JSTOR (also considered tertiary)
    •    Dissertations  (can also be primary)

For a brief overview of primary and secondary sources (from the perspective of history research) see the video below.