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Research 101: 3. Types of Sources

Key Ideas-- Ideas that change everything.

Format Matters: 

  • Would you like to write a book report using only tweets or blog posts? Good idea? Probably not. The format of an information source tells you how it was created. Each different format, whether a tweet, blogpost, journal article, etc.,  tells you how that something was created. The digital world has sometimes made it more difficult to determine format, but a skilled researcher is still able to figure it out. (Source: ACRL Standards)

Watch the video below to get prepared. 

What is a scholarly article?

This 3 minute video from Vanderbilt University's Peabody Library defines scholarly journal and explains how to find scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.

This is a short video from the Lincoln Memorial University which explains the difference between Scholarly and Popular Sources.

Words To Know

Popular Source: A work that is written for the general public and often mass produced and sold at newstands, grocery stores, chain stores.

Scholarly Source: A source written by an scholar, or expert in his or her field. The item will often have been reviewed by other experts in the field, a process known as *peer review*.

Primary Source: Whether or not something is a primary source is determined by how the researcher is using the information. Different fields have slightly different ways of identifying a primary source.

In the humanities (eg., philosophy, religion, history), a primary source could be defined as something that was created either during the time period being studied or afterward by individuals reflecting on their involvement in the events of that time.**


In the social sciences (eg., psychology, economics, sociology), the definition of a primary source would be expanded to include numerical data that has been gathered to analyze relationships between people, events, and their environment.**


In the natural sciences (eg., physics, chemistry, biology), a primary source could be defined as a report of original findings or ideas. These sources often appear in the form of research articles with sections on methods and results.**

Secondary Source: "A secondary source interprets and analyzes a primary source. A secondary source is one or more steps removed from the event."***

Tertiary Source: "Tertiary sources contain information that has been compiled from primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources include almanacs, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories, guidebooks, indexes, abstracts, manuals, and textbooks."****

Source: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science

**source: Lafette College Library 

***source: Princeton Library 

****source: Ithaca College Library

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Source: Suffolk County Community College Library

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