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Lamson Library

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Library User Guide

This guide will introduce you to the very basics of using the Library.

Primary and Secondary Sources

What is the difference between a primary and secondary resource?  A primary resource is one written by the person who conducted the original study, who recorded and assessed the empirical data in a study. 

Let's use a real life example.  Imagine that a group of scientists notices that a population in southern France has a lower incidence of heart disease.  They also notice that this population has a diet that includes a substantial amount of red wine.  The scientists want to know if there is connection between good health and diet so they conduct a study.  They believe their research will be valuable to others in the medical field, so they submit an article to the Journal of the American Medical Association for publication consideration.  This article would be a primary source because the people who did the research wrote the article.  

Other examples of primary sources would be oral bibliographies, autobiographies, original letters, diaries, and photographs.

Let's continue with our example.  As news spreads about the benefits of drinking red wine, popular magazines like Newsweek or Men's Health would find it profitable to report a summary about these benefits.  They wouldn't reprint the same article as it appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association because the style and language are intended for medical professionals.  The journalist assigned to write the article might have a background in medicine who would read the original article and then write a summary that would be more easily understood by the general public.  The article, as it appeared in Newsweek or Men's Health would be a secondary source because it summarizes the original information from the primary source.

For another example, watch this video about the primary sources associated with the 1963 assassination of President John F.Kennedy. Even today, historians still examine primary sources, especially the film shot by Abraham Zapruder that captured the actual shooting of President Kennedy, carefully looking for new clues.


Periodicals Defined

A periodical is a general term for literature published on a regular, repeating basis (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly, etc.).  Newspapers, journals, and magazines are all part of a group collectively referred to as periodical literature.  However, there are many different kinds of periodical literature.


Walk through any grocery store check- out aisle and magazine section at Walmart or Target and you will find many magazine selections.Choose from Consumer Reports, Psychology Today or Sports Illustrated.  While they do provide some helpful information, they are intended for a general audience and often the articles published in them reflect the latest news or trends that editors believe will entice customers to purchase an issue.  

Peer-Reviewed (or Refereed) Journals

Many professors will tell you that they do not want your research to come from magazines, but rather peer-reviewed sources.  What does that mean?

The peer review process works something like this.  A researcher writes an article about his or her study.  The researcher then send a copy of the article to the editor of a journal.  The editor distributes copies of the article among known scholars in the same field asking for comments and endorsements.  If these scholars (the referees, or "peers") decide that the research is solid, timely, and makes a valid contribution to the field, the editor may decide to publish the article in the journal.  \

Journals are among the most important vehicles for advancing knowledge in a particular field of study.  They are the preferred sources for your research and the use of them in your paper establishes your credibility with your reader (your professor!).  

Take a look at this chart.  If the article you are looking at matches this description of a scholarly journal, then you are using a peer-reviewed publication and can feel confident about including it in your bibliography.  

Now, watch this short video.

Professional or Trade Journals

Popular magazines and scholarly journals are two of the types of material you will run into most frequently.  However, many professions and trades have journals important to their practitioners.  These are usually considered secondary resources, but the articles are written for a specific audience.  For example, the title Beverage Industry won't contain research articles about the beverage industry, and it's really of interest to those in the trade, rather than the general public.  Beverage Industry is a trade journal.

A professional journal is very much like a trade journal, but these are aimed at professional practitioners in a field.  Examples of professional journals include, Instructor, Sales & Marketing Management, and Athletic Training.  However, both trade and professional journals contain articles of interest to practitioners.  

Electronic or Online Information Sources

As you evaluate and select information resources, don't confuse "the Internet" with information provided over the Internet for a fee.The online databases purchased by the Library, such as JSTOR or Academic Search Premier, provide access to many quality resources you will want to use in your paper.  

Don't forget About Books and Librarians!

For a lot of research, books are an excellent source of information.  The Library offers both print and electronic access to thousands of books, and these sources are far more credible that something you discover on a website.

And how do you decide which sources to use? Librarians are trained professionals who know how to find and evaluate information and we'd love to help you.  Ask a Librarian at any point in the search process!