decorativeDo you wonder if an article or website is a "quality" source for your research?

What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?

Try these tools and tips to evaluate an information source.

What is a scholarly source?

Scholarly sources are articles, books, dissertations, and other works based on research.

In scholarly articles and books researchers indicate the sources they used by including a bibliography or reference list and often footnotes, endnotes, or in-text references. Scholarly sources are usually written by experts, such as university professors.
Scholarly sources are written for an academic audience. The language used may be more technical and the approach more theoretical than a source written for a general audience.

Some scholarly sources are peer-reviewed, but some are not.

Peer-reviewed articles are evaluated by experts in the field before publication.

Refereed is another term that refers to journals or articles that are peer-reviewed.

Books are usually not peer-reviewed, but the qualifications and expertise of the author, as well as the presence of cited sources, help to determine whether a book is considered scholarly.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources are original materials or firsthand accounts. Primary sources are firsthand information, original data, and can be used to prepare derivative works.

Primary source examples:

  • artifacts, photographs
  • diaries, autobiographies
  • correspondence
  • interviews, speeches
  • literature, other manuscripts
  • original records and documents
  • patents
  • surveys
  • original research

Secondary Sources interpret facts (and should provide cited references). Secondary sources are one step removed from the original source. They usually describe, summarize, analyze, evaluate, or are based upon primary source materials.

Secondary Source examples:

  • Books and articles that discuss or interpret primary sources
  • biographies
  • commentaries
  • Review articles, literary criticism
  • Textbooks

Evaluation Criteria

When evaluating sources, try the CARP test.

C--Currency (the timeliness of the information)

  • When was the information published?
  • Has the information been updated or revised?
  • For your topic, is the information current or outdated?
  • If a web resource, are the links functional?

A--Authority (the source of the information)

  • Who is the author, publisher, or source of the information?
  • What are the author's qualifications to write on your topic?
  • Are the author's credentials or affiliations provided?
  • What does the URL tell you about the source? Here are some examples:
    • .com (commercial)
    • .edu (educational)
    • .gov (U.S. government)
    • .org (nonprofit organization)
    • .mil (military)

R--Reliability (how accurate and complete the information is)

  • What is the editing and publishing policy of the source?
  • Is the source peer-reviewed?
    • A peer-reviewed or refereed article has been critically evaluated by scholars in the author’s field before publication.
  • Does the source fact-check before publishing?
  • Does the source provide documentation, such as footnotes or a bibliography?

P--Purpose (the reason the information exists) & Point of View (objective or biased viewpoint)

  • Is the purpose of the information to inform, persuade, promote, sell, or share?
  • Do the authors make their purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion, or propaganda?
  • Is the point of view objective and impartial?
  • Does the author want to influence change?
    • Tip: All writing, apart from the dissemination of pure facts, contains a certain amount of bias (aka point-of-view). Inflammatory language, derogatory name-calling, and hyperbole generally indicate a highly biased viewpoint and are not appropriate for academic research.

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