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Biology 142 Spring 2021

Primary or Secondary?

Primary - In scientific writing, a primary source is the original research study. Primary sources more often describe the research in detail and has not been filtered through evaluation by others.

Secondary - Secondary sources are articles that critique, discuss, or analyze a study. Overall, secondary sources talk about the research conducted by someone else.


If your professor has not specified which sources you should be looking for, feel free to ask.

Comparing Attributes of Scholarly Sources and Non-Scholarly Sources: 

**Scholarly Sources:

  • use the language of the discipline (not written for a general audience)
  • are lengthy - usually longer than 5 pages
  • have numerous citations throughout and references at the end of article
  • have author or authors with credentials in the field (you can tell because usually there is a brief blurb about where the author works, their field of study, and PhD information)
  • are published in scholarly journals (this is a good time to use Google - look at Submission OR About page of the journal - that is where they usually mention they are a peer-review publication)

Non-Scholarly Sources:

  • are written for a general audience
  • may be published in newspapers or popular magazines (not peer-reviewed)
  • typically are shorter in length
  • have authors who are not always an expert in the area
  • frequently list few or no citations or references

**Remember: if the article only meets one of these criteria, it is not automatically a scholarly source. It is a culmination of the criteria that make it scholarly.


To help identify the parts of a scholarly article, check out this interactive tutorial created by Andreas Orphanides at NCSU Libraries.