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Research Guides

Biology 114: Organisms & Environments: Types of Sources

A guide to biological sciences resources available at the University of Idaho Library

What are Primary & Secondary Sources?

Primary Sources are works that contain firsthand information or original data on a topic, such as:

  • Letters & Diaries
  • First-person Accounts
  • Speeches
  • Images & Maps
  • Newspaper Clippings
  • Recorded Sounds
  • Films & Sheet Music
  • Artifacts & Memoirs
  • Oral Histories
  • Interviews
  • Government Documents
  • Public Records.

Secondary Sources are works that are one step removed from the primary source that summarize or evaluate the primary source, such as:

  • Reviews & Critiques
  • Second-person accounts
  • Biography or Histories

Scholarly vs. Popular Resources

Scholarly Popular
Format Journals Magazines, newspapers
Content Original research and inquiry General interest stories and opinion pieces; may discuss research studies, but do not contain original research
Purpose Share research to expand knowledge base in a discipline

Share news, general information, and entertainment; for profit

Audience Professors, researchers, professionals, experts, students General public
Author Experts in the field.  Name, credentials, and affiliations are provided.  Journalist or professional writer, who are not experts or specialists in a field.  Sometimes no author name or credentials are given.
Article Structure Includes clearly labeled parts such as abstract (article summary), and references (bibliography, works cited).  May also include and introduction, background, literature review, methodology, results, discussion, conclusion, notes, appendices and more. Structure varies.  May have titled subsections, but they will rarely be the same labels as a scholarly work.  Do not have abstracts or reference lists. 
Language Scholarly or technical language; may require prior knowledge of field, issues, and jargon Easily understood language; does not require special knowledge
Peer review Usually.  Articles are verified by experts in the field; emphasize accuracy, trustworthiness, and validity. No
Citations Yes.  Other sources will be cited in text and will have full citations/references in footnotes or reference/works cited list at the end of the paper. Rarely. Sources will often be referred to, but rarely have full citations.  No reference/works cited list.
Appearance Serious and simple; often black and white Glossy, colorful; attractive images and design; full page ads
Images Sometimes.  May contain charts, diagrams, and tables; photography is rare outside of specific disciplines. Yes.  Heavily illustrated with many photos
Advertisements Rarely.  If so, they are small, discreet, and subject related Yes.  Profit-based publication; a significant portion is allocated to ads 
Length Longer.  Length is variable, but usually between 10-30 pages Shorter.  A couple hundred words to a few pages

Information in this table was created in conjunction with viewing the University of Victoria's Research Tips Central pages.

For more info...

What is Peer Review?

Peer-reviewed articles (also know as refereed) go through a process where they are analyzed by experts in a field before publication.

  • articles are examined to evaluate the quality of research
  • reviewers decide if the article adds to the content of the field

Articles can be scholarly (written and published for an academic audience), yet not go through the peer-review process.

Popular vs Scholarly at UI

Is my Article Peer Reviewed?

1. Check if your journal is peer reviewed

  • Search for your title in Ulrich's Global Serials Directory
  • When you find your journal, look for a "referee shirt" symbol.  The symbol will appear next to any journal title that is peer reviewed and/or refereed (interchangeable terms).


2. If the journal is peer reviewed, then assess the article

  • Is it a full research article?  If your article is a short news brief, an editorial, a letter to the editor, or a re-print of a conference proceeding, it is not peer reviewed.

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