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FSN 603: Nutrient Changes in the Food System: Identifying Types of Resources

Different Types of Information

When you're searching for resources you might come across several different types. You'll find Journal Articles, Conference Proceedings, Book Chapters and more. 

These different publications can also be Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary. This guide will help you better understand what you're reading.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources

Primary Source:

In science, Primary Sources were written by the people who collected the data and observations they're describing.

Secondary Source:

These authors wrote about experiments OTHER scientists did.

Tertiary Source:

General resources with the most up to date accepted theories and information. Most often encyclopedias and handbooks.

How can you tell the difference?

Look at the article record! It will often say if what you're reading is a book chapter or journal article.

Look at the title page. Does it say it say it was published by a journal? Or a part of a book? Maybe there's the name of a conference it was presented at. 

Look for a Methods section! If the Methods describe how they completed an experiment, it's likely a primary source. If the Methods describe why they selected certain articles for review, it's probably secondary. 

Look at the Types of Resources chart. Once you know if something is Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary, it can be easier to identify if what type of publication it was and vice versa!

Types of Information

[Header] Types of Scientific Resources

[Content] Primary:

Peer reviewed scientific research articles
Published Conference Proceedings
Technical Reports
Author Self-Archived Research
Edited Volumes

Secondary:

Review Articles
Non-Scholarly Publications (e.g. magazines)
Monographs
Single Author Books
Textbooks

Tertiary:

Encyclopedias
Dictionaries
Handbooks
Manuals
Wikipedia

University of Maine Fogler Library

So What?

Why do you need to know what kind of information you're looking at?

  • The type of information tells you about its reliability.
    • Journal Articles typically go through the strictest editing process whereas Conference Proceedings might present new ideas that haven't been tested out as thoroughly. They can still inform your experiment, but you'll want to carefully verify what they're saying. 
  • The type of information also tells us how to cite it! What's needed to cite a Journal Article is different from what's needed to cite a Conference Proceeding or Book Chapter.
    • For a Book Chapter the citation needs to include the title of the chapter AND the title of the book.
    • For a Conference Paper there needs to be the title of the paper or presentation AND the conference it was presented at.
    • A journal article citation will need to include the journal it was published in.
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