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Critical Thinking & Academic Research

This guide is created to aid you in your development of critical thinking skills and in your ability to conduct research using library resources.

Step 3- Understand Types of Information

The distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources differs according to the discipline. A primary source in Social Sciences is very different from one in Sciences. However, understanding the types of information is essential before making a decision to include it in your body of your work that results in a better quality of research. The research could be a combination of these resources. 

Here is a basic structured explanation of types of information (note that examples are not limited to these listed below):

  • Primary Resources- original material
    • journal articles (Scholarly articles that are based on original first-hand data)
    • theses (original research)
    • conference proceedings (research presented is based on original findings)
    • Oral history interviews
  • Secondary Resources- interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to primary sources
    • review of primary sources such as "review articles"
    • books
    • practice guidelines
  • Tertiary Resources- distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources
    • encyclopedias
    • textbooks


When to use an article?

  • Use journal articleto find in-depth information on a specific topic.
  • Articles in periodicals often provide the latest news or thought on a particular topic.
  • Scholarly journal articles typically analyze more specific topics than books do.
  • They are the primary means by which scholars in the natural sciences and most social sciences publish their research.

Selected Library Databases

A database provides access to published materials in scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, books, and other valuable information sources. Search databases below to find articles on your topic!

A note on peer-review

Peer-reviewed articles are articles that have been evaluated by the writer's professional colleagues or peers.  The idea is that the reviewers will judge the writer on scholarly standards within the field by examining the research methodology, style, ethics, etc. 

Most academic databases will allow you to find peer-reviewed articles by simply checking a box as you refine your search. 

Need a reminder on the peer-review process?  Contact your librarian!

See this library guide explains peer-review articles in a much more detailed way: Peer-reviewed Explained

Types of Periodicals


When to use a book?

  • in-depth coverage of a subject  

  •  history and chronology    

  •  overview of a big topic    

  •  background information  

  •  bibliographies of additional sources. 

You can directly search for e-books from the library catalog. However, you can also go to the specific library database in order to search for an e-book. The Library offers access to nearly 200 thousand e-books in all academic disciplines including music. Books may be read online or downloaded for a short loan period to read offline. Here are the most well-known e-book databases that the library subscribes:

Also, here is a list of other e-book databases that the library subscribes. 

Types of Information According to Disciplines

Types of information may vary across disciplines and it is important to identify the purpose of research as well as the methodology of research before trying to locate primary, secondary and tertiary sources. 

Information Timeline

Let's look at the Information Timeline to understand the types of resources better.


G.R. Little Library

Elizabeth City State University