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On this page:

  • How to differentiate between types of sources in terms of creation process, e.g. popular and scholar
  • How to differentiate between types of sources in terms of level of analysis; e.g. primary and secondary 
  • How to differentiate between types of sources in terms of format, e.g. books, articles and videos

Ask yourself:

  • What types of sources are relevant for my topic and assignment?

See also: Find Sources and Source Evaluation

Scholarly versus popular

Faculty often tell students to use scholarly (or academic) sources rather than popular ones. This distinction applies most often to the use of articles found in journals, periodicals, and magazines. Many of the same distinctions apply to books. The author’s credentials, the writing style, the presence (or lack) of footnotes, and the type of publisher (university press or mass-market publishing house) should all be looked at when evaluating the quality of a particular book. 

Understanding the Peer Review Process

What is peer review? How do articles get peer reviewed? Why is peer review important? 
Watch this short video from NC State University Libraries on the peer review process:


Anatomy of a Scholarly Article
This quick video from NC State University Libraries highlights the different parts of a scholarly article, helping you recognize a scholarly article when you see it.

Primary versus secondary

Primary sources

Sometimes faculty recommend or require the use of primary sources. These are original documents related to an event or topic, including diaries and personal eyewitness accounts, interviews, speeches, creative and artistic works, and first-hand reports of events such as newspaper articles.  

Example of a primary source:

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin 1860-1870, edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al The correspondence of Charles Darwin written between 1860-1870.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources analyze and comment on primary sources. These may include books or articles written by scholars who interpret past events or synthesize previous research.

Example of a secondary source: 

Charles Darwin, by Michael Ruse. The author's researched biography of Charles Darwin. 

Both primary and secondary sources can be valuable in the sense that original data can be both examined and interpreted later by scholars and researchers.

Different Formats

All of the following formats may be available either physically or digitally from the Library:

Reference Sources such as Encyclopedias can be a good starting point for learning about major concepts on a broad topic.

Books provide in-depth coverage of topics.

Articles are intended to provide current, focused information on a topic. 

Journals are serial publications that contain articles on particular themes or subject areas. 

Videos provide dynamic visual information.