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Chemistry and Biochemistry: Types of Sources

Major print and online chemistry resources

Subject Guide

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Greg Nelson
2313 HBLL
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 422-9066

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources



Primary resources --peer reviewed articles written by authors who actually performed an original experiment or are reporting their field observations, i.e., of organisms or medical patients; comprises main body of scientific information and knowledge; found by searching journal article databases for references

Secondary resources --peer reviewed articles written by authors who summarize or discuss trends in the primary literature; found by searching journal article databases for references

Tertiary resources --non-peer reviewed articles, books, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries, etc.; found by searching the Internet, the library catalog, and some databases

NOTE: The resource CQ Researcher is a tertiary resource. CQ Researcher is equivalent to an encyclopedia--you can find reliable background information in the entries, which are written by experienced journalists. However, the articles are not peer-reviewed and they do not report on research, so they are tertiary resources.

Peer review --process by which articles are submitted to experts in the scientific discipline for comments and criticism before publication in a scholarly journal; peer reviewed journals are also called "refereed." Search Ulrichsweb for the journal title and look for the referee shirt icon to see if a journal is peer reviewed.

Scholarly journal --journal that publishes mostly scientific, primary articles; exists to disseminate knowledge (examples: Science, Nature, Cell, Ecology)

Trade journal --journal or magazine that publishes mostly non-peer reviewed articles and frequently contains advertisements; exists to make money (examples: Science News, National Geographic, Time)

Library catalog --a searchable database that includes records representing every item in the library, including books, journals, CDs, DVDs, maps, manuscripts, and microforms

Journal article databases (also called periodical indexes) --electronically searchable sources that provide reference information to articles published in hundreds and thousands of mostly scholarly journals; most databases include an abstract (summary of the article) and some provide links to the full text of the articles; science databases index mostly primary and secondary resources

Periodicals Room --area on the north side of the second floor of the Harold B. Lee Library in which the print copies of most journals and other serial publications are shelved

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How to Tell the Difference between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources


Primary Literature

Secondary Literature

Tertiary Literature

Title states results or conclusions; often uses technical terminology

Title often includes words like "trends," "history," and "insights"; often easier to understand

Titles vary widely; often use non-technical language

Abstract includes experimental or observational conditions and a summary of the results

Often in review publications, like the Annual Review of Cell Biology

In a variety of publications and formats including: newspapers, magazines, websites, and most books

Often has the following sections: Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, Discussion, and a substantial bibliography or reference list

Extensive reference lists

No bibliography or only a few references

Peer reviewed

Peer reviewed

NOT peer reviewed

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How to Get Help


Science/Maps Reference Desk--HBLL Level 2;; 422-2987. Come get help from librarians and student assistants (Hours: Mon-Thurs 8 am-9 pm; Fri 8 am-6 pm; Sat 10 am-6 pm)

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