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Research Help DIY

Types of Sources

Primary Source
Original material created at the time of the event or by the subject you are studying. This kind of material is the closest you can get to your actual subject, unfiltered by later scholars and critics. Examples of primary sources include:

personal letters
original works of research
interviews/ transcripts
scientific samples
survey and poll data
newspaper accounts of an event as it happened
field notes

Secondary Source
A work that analyzes primary sources. They can also act as primary sources, depending on your subject. Secondary sources include:

journal articles
books and monographs
critical reviews

 Tertiary Source
A source that indexes or otherwise collects primary or secondary sources. These sources tend to be most useful as jumping off points for your research, leading you to the more in-depth secondary and primary material. Examples include:

online indices

Research Terms

A brief description of a source (book, article, web page, image or other) that has been quoted, paraphrased, or used as an authority. Citation format will vary by subject area; consult the appropriate style manual. Example:

Harling Stalker, L. L. (2000) Wool and needles in my casket: Knitting as habit among rural Newfoundland women. Master's thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

See also Citation Manager. 


Citation Manager
Software that helps you keep track of your sources and generates bibliographies/ works cited pages. Examples include RefWorks, Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote. For more information, see this guide to citation managers.


An organized digital collection of references to published literature. Databases allow you to find journal articles, or other types of literature, on a particular topic. Many (but not all) may include full text or links to full text. Click here for a list of databases available to members of the Brown community.


Literature Review
A summary and synthesis of scholarly research on a specific topic. It is used to determine what research has been done on your topic, and to help you build on existing scholarship to contextualize your own work. Most common in the social sciences and sciences. One place to find literature reviews is Annual Review, which covers a wide variety of subject areas.


A scholarly, single volume, in depth treatment of one topic, written for an academic audience. For example, Piero Della Francesca : a mathematician's art


Peer Review
Articles in scholarly publications have gone through an editorial review by a panel of experts. This process is peer review, and it ensures that the article has met requirements for publication in a scholarly journal.

For more information, see this site by publisher Elsevier: What is peer review?


A publication appearing on a regular basis. May include articles, stories, and other writings. Examples include magazines, journals, and bulletins. Search electronic periodicals available at Brown here.


Using another's ideas or work without assigning credit. May be intentional or unintentional. For more information, see the Avoid Plagiarism page on this guide.


Popular Magazine/ Periodical
A magazine or newspaper written for the general reader rather than a scholarly audience. Articles are often unsigned, sources are not always identified, and the level of writing is accessible to most readers. Popular periodicals usually include advertisements and glossy pictures. Examples include Rolling Stone, Time, Sports Illustrated, Smithsonian...and Cat Fancy.


Scholarly/ Academic Journal
A periodical comprised of academic, often peer-reviewed articles. These articles are written by scholars for scholars and students, usually signed with the author's name and affiliation, and contains citations. Examples include the William and Mary Quarterly, American Ethnologist, Nature, British Medical Journal (BMJ), October, and Black Music Research Journal.


Subject Librarian
A librarian who specializes in a specific subject area or areas. They acquire materials for teaching and research, instruct faculty and students on how best to use these materials, and assist in the research process. Here we are!