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Honors 101: Source Types

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources Secondary Sources
  • Information in its original form when it first appears
  • Information has not been published anywhere else, or put into a context, interpreted, filtered, condensed, or evaluated by anyone else.


  • eyewitness accounts
  • original research (the first publication of a scientific study)
  • letters between two people
  • a diary
  • historical documents such as the US Constitution
  • Information that restates, rearranges, examines, or interprets information from one or more primary sources


  • newspaper or magazine articles that draw upon multiple eyewitness accounts or previous news coverage of an event
  • articles reporting on a scientific study published elsewhere
  • a review of a book

Remember that for many primary documents, such as Euclid's and Archimedes' writings or the letters from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, we are not going to have the original documents. However, we may have reprints, or the documents may be included in an anthology.

How can I tell if an article I found is scholarly?

If you aren't sure whether an article you've found is scholarly, look for the following signs:


Is the article from a peer-reviewed or scholarly journal? If so, chances are that you've found an academic article. However, be sure that what you've found is indeed an article, not a book review, editorial, letter to the editor, or other section that may be published in such journals.


An abstract is a brief summary of the article. Most academic articles will begin with an abstract. This is what you should read during your initial search to see whether something is a good source.

Author Affiliation

Scholarly articles are usually written by people who are associated with universities or research institutes. The author's affiliation should be listed in the database as well as on the article itself (usually on the first page).

Specialized Language

The language in academic articles is scholarly, which means that the language used is formal and specialized to the field of the study.

Charts, Graphs, and Tables (in some fields)

In some fields, another sign of a scholarly article is the presence of charts, graphs, and tables presenting data from original research done by the authors.


Academic articles contain lots of references. Academic work is not done in a vacuum; authors and researchers build on previous work. This work must be cited both in the text of the article and in a references section. The purpose of the references is twofold: to give credit to the author(s), and to allow readers of the paper to find the works cited.

Narrowing to Scholarly Sources


Most databases have a limiter to either "Peer-Reviewed," "Academic." or "Scholarly" articles. Using these limiters, will automatically filter out anything in a library database that comes from non-academic sources.


Many library databases can be limited by source type, which would include books, conference materials, newpapers, magazines, and academic journals. Choosing the Academic Journal facet will make sure you only retrieve academic sources.

Google Scholar

Using Google Scholar will retrieve results that are academic in nature. These results often come from and link to sources found in library databases.

Use this link to access Google Scholar:

Setting up Google Scholar for Off Campus Use

Indentifying Primary & Secondary Sources

For questions or help, contact the Marx Library at:

Phone: 251-460-7025