Scholarly and Non-scholarly Research Material  |  Primary and Secondary Sources

Scholarly journals:

  • look serious and contain mainly text and charts
  • contain content written by scholars or researchers in the field
  • contain content written for an audience with a background in the field
  • always cite their sources and include a bibliography or works cited section
  • are published by professional organizations, scholarly presses or universities
  • contain content which is frequently peer-reviewed or refereed, i.e., an article is reviewed by a group of the authors' peers, in addition to an editorial board, to see if it is substantive and valid enough to be published in the journal

When searching the library's databases, you will be unable to see the print journal, but you can still tell if a journal is scholarly by looking for author credentials and a bibliography or works cited section at the end of an article. If you must use a peer-reviewed journal and are unsure of its status, search for the journal publisher home page on the Internet.

Non-scholarly periodicals: (magazines, trade publications, newspapers)

  • look glossy or are formatted like a newspaper; they contain many ads and photos
  • contain content frequently written by "staff" or freelancers
  • contain variable coverage geared for public consumption
  • seldom cite their sources or include a bibliography
  • frequently use information that is second- or third-hand
  • are published by commercial, for-profit publishers
  • contain content that is not peer-reviewed/refereed

Primary and Secondary Sources

There are two types of research material: primary and secondary.

Primary sources represent original, firsthand works--records of events as first described by the person(s) who wrote/created/sang/spoke the material, e.g., poems, research studies, diaries, works of art, interviews, novels, films, autobiographies. In many cases, you will be required to use primary sources for your research projects.

Secondary sources analyze, review, evaluate, interpret and restate primary sources, e.g., book reviews, biographies, analyses or syntheses of literary works or research studies. Many reference works are secondary sources and many journal articles are reviews of another's primary research.