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JMC 102: Journalism & Mass Communications: Types of Sources

Tools for information seeking and gathering

Popular versus Scholarly Sources

The basic differences between popular and scholarly articles arise from the audience for which the periodical is written.

CRITERIA Popular Magazines or Newspapers Scholarly Journals
AUDIENCE general public scholars, students, professionals
APPEARANCE lots of color, advertising, illustrations, short articles mostly text, black & white, graphs & charts, long articles with bibliographies & footnotes
CONTENT feature articles on timely topics; written for a general audience in a language that is easy to understand researched and footnoted articles; written for a specialized audience in a vocabulary that is not easily understood by the average reader
AUTHOR(ITY) written by staff & freelance writers; checked by editors authored by researchers, academics, specialists; peer-reviewed
EXAMPLES Time; Business Week; People The Journal of American History; Advanced Optical Technologies; Journal of Applied Psychology


Where to find Scholarly Articles

  1. Enter your search terms into the Summon search box
  2. From the results list, click one of the options on the left menu:
  • Scholarly and Peer-Reviewed
  • Peer-Reviewed

Search Summon for articles, books, & more


Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

  • Primary sources can include:  artifacts, audio recordings, diaries, internet communication, interview, letters, peer-reviewed journal articles, original documents, patents, photos, proceedings, records of organizations, speeches, videos, survey results, works of art, web sites.
  • Secondary sources are sources and information that is produced "after the fact" and are often interpretive in nature.  Examples of secondary sources include:  bibliographies, biographies, criticisms, commentaries, dictionaries, encyclopedias, histories, journal articles, monographs (except fiction and autobiographies), textbooks, websites.
  • Tertiary sources combine elements of primary and secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include:  almanacs, bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, fact books, guidebooks, manuals, textbooks.

Do you notice that some items can be considered primary, secondary, and tertiary? 

Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is original and what is an interpretation or distillation of an original work. Here is a great summary from University of Maryland that compares the three types of sources:

Teaching and Learning Services. "Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources."  University of Maryland Libraries. 

Easily find primary sources

  • From a Summon results page, look for anything identified as "Original Research"
  • Try searching in our Special Collections

Other sources for evaluating primary source materials can be found below: