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Valencia Writer: Types Of Sources

Types Of Sources

Primary sources are original materials that were created at the time of an event or during a specific period of time.  Primary materials can also be created after an event by participants or direct observers of the period of study. 

Primary materials are important to researchers because it allows them to study as closely as possible a historical period or event without having actually witnessed it themselves. Primary does not mean they are the best sources but the first sources created for a historical period.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Diaries, memoirs, letters and autobiographies
  • Government records and documents
  • Books, magazines, and newspapers published during the time
  • Photographs, videos, movies, audio recordings
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Novels, poems, plays, short stories, essays
  • Court decisions
  • Artifacts (coins, clothing, plants, tools, furniture, etc.)
  • Research Data (Census, scientific reports)
  • Official records from companies or organizations of the time
  • Public opinion polls
  • Works of art, architecture, music


A secondary source interprets, analyzes, or describes an event or period usually many years after the event has occurred. Secondary sources usually interpret primary sources and other secondary sources. Historical research compiled only through secondary sources is often frowned upon or discredited.

Examples Of Secondary Sources

  • Biographies
  • Dissertations
  • Textbooks
  • Journal Articles
  • Reference Books

Tertiary sources are often condensed overviews of primary and secondary sources with references and notes back to the primary and secondary materials for a topic.  Background research and overviews are the primary reason to use tertiary sources, but they rarely contain enough depth on a topic to rely on solely for a research paper.

Examples of Tertiary Sources

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Indexes

Compared with books, articles are usually short. They are published as parts of larger publications that contain many articles, such as newspapers, magazines, or scholarly journals. Articles can also appear as parts of websites or as chapters within books.

Articles can be accessed by searching in most Library databases.

A "scholarly" article is usually one that has been written by an expert, peer reviewed, and published in a scholarly journal. "Peer Reviewed" means the article has been reviewed by a panel of experts before publication. Certain journals require peer review before they will publish an article. A "scholarly journal" is one that requires peer review and is usually written for researchers, scholars, or faculty.

The primary purpose is to inform the reader and scholarly articles usually contain a literature overview, the methods used to conduct the research, results and a list of sources consulted.  The language is usually technical and contains jargon specific to that particular field.  Scholarly articles can be dozens of pages or more in length.

In many Library databases, you can limit your search to peer reviewed articles by checking a box.

A popular article is usually written by staff journalists or freelance writers for a general audience.  These are much shorter and simpler, with little or no jargon.  The goal of these articles is mostly to entertain or give a brief overview of a topic, and they rarely contain a bibliography or links to the original sources. 

trade article is written by experts or member of a certain industry or profession.  These are not considered scholarly, as the information usually covers trends, opinions, conferences and other general news for an industry or profession.

  Popular Sources (Magazines) Scholarly Sources (Peer Reviewed Journals, Academic Press Books) Trade Sources 
Content Current events, pop culture, general interest Research results, field work, surveys, reviews of research Articles for a specific field, profession, or industry
Audience All readers Scholars, researchers, students Professionals, members of specific industries (aviation pilots, police, nurses)
Author Staff writers, freelance writers, journalists Professors, scholars, experts in the field Staff writers, members of the profession
Purpose Entertain, inform, sell products, persuade Publish and share new research Current trends or updates, career opportunities, conference announcements 
Appearance Ads, pictures, thin and glossy paper Few or no ads, charts, graphs little or no pictures Short articles, glossy paper, contains ads
Review Process Magazine editor(s) Review board, panel of scholars and experts in the field review for accuracy (peer reviewed) Magazine editor(s)
Citations Usually no citations, might provide links to sources or studies Extensive citations in the style of the discipline or publication including references, bibliographies, footnotes or endnotes Few or no citations
Frequency Weekly or monthly Quarterly, Semi-annually, annually or longer with academic press books Weekly or monthly
Examples Time, Newsweek, National Geographic Journal of Natural History, American Journalism Review: AJR, Journal of Individual Psychology Police Chief, Fire Engineering, Library Journal


One Minute Video Tip (Source Types)

One Minute Video Tip (Scholarly or Popular)

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