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Primary & Secondary Sources: Introduction

Scholarly Journals

Scholarly journals are also called peer-reviewed journals.  Peer review is a process by which editors have experts in a field review books or articles submitted for publication by the experts’ peers. Peer review helps to ensure the quality of an information source.

Elements of Scholarly Journals:

Articles are lengthy, in-depth and written in the jargon of the field for others with similar backgrounds

  • Authors are experts in the field
  • Audience is the scholarly reader [professors, students, researchers]
  • Illustrations support the text
  • Bibliographies or references are always included
  • Examples: American Sociological Review, Journal of Abnormal Psychology; Journal of Applied Science & Engineering Technology


Primary Sources

Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.  Scholars analyze primary sources in order to answer research questions. Examples of primary sources vary by discipline.

Examples in the humanities:

  • a novel
  • a painting
  • a theatre performance

Examples in the social sciences:

  • a political, social, or economic theory
  • a dataset
  • the results of an experiment published in a peer-reviewed journal

Example in the sciences:

  • the results of an experiment published in a peer-reviewed journal

Secondary Sources

  • In secondary sources, authors analyze and interpret primary source materials.
  • Secondary sources can be scholarly or popular
  • Scholarly sources (sometimes called "academic" or "peer-reviewed" sources) are written by and for experts and typically include bibliographies and citations.
  • Popular sources are written for a general, non-expert audience and can be authored by anyone.

Still unsure?

Popular Journals

Magazines are publication issued on a regular basis containing popular articles, written and illustrated in a less technical manner than the articles found in a journal.

Elements of the popular magazine:

  • Feature writers; columns; occasional “guest” writers
  • Usually do not include any bibliographies or references
  • Articles are short [between 1 and 5 pages]
  • Audience is the general public
  • Popular topics written for anyone to understand
  • Often include flashy photography or graphic elements for marketing appeal
  • Examples:  Rolling Stone, Time, Popular Science, National Geographic