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A guide to research in psychology

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Types of Sources

Common Types of Sources Used in Research Papers

Empirical Sources

Empirical sources are those that come from original research and would also be considered primary sources. You can easily recognize an empirical research paper as it usually contains the following sections within the body of the article:

  • Abstract - a brief summary of the research
  • Literature Review - a discussion of prior research on the topic
  • Methods - describes how the research was conducted
  • Results - the findings of the research
  • Discussion - an analysis of the findings
  • Conclusions - what the author concludes from the research
  • References - a list of consulted research for the study

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the original materials, where the author has been directly involved in the research or event. A primary source remains in its original form, uninterpreted by others. Examples would be diaries, correspondences, letters, emails, speeches, empirical research, etc. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are items written after the fact. The perspective is different as the author is interpreting what has already happened. Common secondary sources would be newspaper articles, some journal articles, commentaries, criticisms, reviews of the literature, etc.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are compilations of primary and secondary sources, comprised mainly of facts and references to other sources. Common tertiary sources would be handbooks, almanacs, guidebooks, indexes, dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc.

Scholarly, Academic, and Peer-Reviewed Sources

Scholarly sources, also referred to as academic, refereed, or peer-reviewed, are those written by experts, traditionally professors and scientists.