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COMM 101 [Kiernan] - Disciplinary Literacies Project: Types of Sources

A guide to help students in COMM 101 research the various ways specific disciplines decimate information.

Primary vs Secondary vs Tertiary

primary source is an original object or document -- the raw material or first-hand information, source material that is closest to what is being studied. Scientific and other peer reviewed journals are excellent sources for primary research.

Primary sources vary by discipline and can include historical and legal documents, eye witness accounts, results of an experiment, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and art objects.

In the sciences, the results of an experiment or study are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences, so those articles and papers that present the original results are considered primary sources.

secondary source is something written about a primary source. Secondary sources include comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the original material. You can think of secondary sources as second-hand information. If I tell you something, I am the primary source. If you tell someone else what I told you, you are the secondard source.

Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research.

Tertiary sources have the most fluid definition of the three levels of analysis.  Generally speaking, tertiary resources analyze and synthesize information about a given topic.  In other words, tertiary sources are information about information.  They summarize the research on a particular topic in a user-friendly form or list primary and secondary sources. 

What are Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources?

Created by Suffolk County Community College Library, JMM, 06-2012.


Books & eBooks The Library currently owns 59,740 print books and 89,268 ebooks which can accessed through our Online Library Catalog.
Conference Proceedings

Research presented at the conference of the society or association.  A few places where you can find proceedings:

  • OCLC FirstSearch - Select the Proceedings Database which is only includes citations.
  • Online Library Catalog - We own quite a few conference proceedings.  Just type the words "Proceedings" or "Transactions" to find them.
  • ProQuest Global - In Advanced Search you can limit by document type/conference proceedings.
Databases The Library subscribes to over 50+ databases.  Databases can contain a variety of information such as abstracts, full-text articles, statistics, industry reports and conference proceedings.  
Government Documents  U. S. Government Publishing Office produces and distributes information from all three branches of the government.

A periodical that contains articles of popular interest on a variety topics.  The articles are generally short (less than 5 pages) and the publication generally contains advertising.  A few examples:

The latest print issues of the above titles are housed in the library.  Check out our  Journal A-Z List for a complete listing of our magazine holdings.


The Library has print subscriptions to the following newspapers: Detroit Free Press, Flint Journal, New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.  We also subscribe to the following news databases:

Professional Societies


An organization for a particular profession or field.  Professional organizations communicate in a variety of ways but more formally through conference proceedings and journals.  A few examples:

Scholarly Journals

A periodical that disseminates research and commentary in a specific field of study.  Most scholarly journal articles are peer-reviewed by experts in the field.  A few examples of scholarly journals:

We subscribe to over 55,000+ journals, check out our Journal A-Z List!

Thesis Collection The Library houses theses from 1946 - present in the Digital Thesis Archive.  If you need assistance accessing the Digital Thesis Archive refer to our Digital Thesis Archive LibGuide.  Theses from the last 15 years can be downloaded in .PDF form.  Older theses can be converted to digital from microfilm/microfiche.
Trade Publications

A magazine, newspaper or web publication geared towards a specific profession or industry.  A few examples:

Standards & Technical Papers

Standards and technical papers are another way professional organizations communicate and set universal guidelines for an industry.  A few examples are listed below:

  • American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standards - ASTM is an international organization that develops and publishes technical standards for all types of materials. The Library owns the complete 2013 set of standards in print. Current standards are also avilable online in the ASTM Compass Standards database.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Technical Papers - Our Library is one of three in the country that owns the largest collection of NASA Technical Papers in print.
  • Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Technical Papers - Technical papers 1998 - present can be found in our SAE Moblius Database.  SAE Papers + Standards Home LibGuide explains how to find technical papers both in the Library and on the SAE Moblius Database.

What is a Scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Article?

Anali Perry, a librarian from Arizona State University Libraries, has the answer!

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