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Environmental Studies

Literature Review Tips

Primary & Secondary Sources in Science

In the Sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the human immune system. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on the human immune system


Primary Source

Secondary Source


Original materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a second party.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source.


Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle.

Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle.

 FORMATS--depends on the kind of  analysis being conducted.

Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, a survey reported in a journal article, and technical reports.

Review articles, magazine articles, and books

 Example: Scientists studying  Genetically Modified Foods.

Article in scholarly journal reporting research and methodology.

Articles analyzing and commenting on the results of original research; books doing the same


Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source

Secondary Source

  • Conference Papers
  • Correspondence
  • Dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Lab Notebooks
  • Notes
  • Patents
  • Proceedings
  • Studies or Surveys
  • Technical Reports
  • Theses
  • Criticism and Interpretation
  • Dictionaries
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Government Policy
  • Guide to Literature
  • Handbooks
  • Law and Legislation
  • Monographs
  • Moral and Ethical Aspects
  • Political Aspects
  • Public Opinion
  • Reviews
  • Social Policy
  • Tables

Source: The Evolution of Scientific Information (from Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, vol. 26).


Why use secondary sources?
Secondary sources can provide you with background information and offer analysis of the event or work by those removed one or more steps from the event or work itself.  Scholarly articles are written by experts studying in a particular field, offering credibility to your research by providing interpretation of material by scholars. Secondary sources look beyond a particular event or artifact and can broaden your perspective and research.   They can also provide historical perspective based on other events that have taken since the original event or work.

How can I tell if something is a secondary source?
As with any research, examine the document or article carefully for accuracy and credibility. Use the following questions to help you determine whether or not you are using a credible secondary source:

How does the author know what he/she knows?
Does his/her knowledge stem from personal experience or having read about and analyzed an event?
Does the author cite several other (published) reports?

Why is the information being provided or the article written?
Are there references to other writings on this topic?
Is the author interpreting previous events?
Does the information come from personal experience or others' accounts?

Is the date of publication evident?
Is the date of publication close to the event described or was it written much later?

Locating Specific Journals

The following journals are recommended for this assignment:

Access via Goucher

Progress in Human Geography
Environment and Planning D 
Development and Change
Cultural Anthropology

Locate the Goucher owned journals via the Journals by Title link found on the library's website homepage (or click the link).  This is to search for the TITLE of the JOURNAL.  Do not attempt to find article titles via this link.

Once you have located your journal, you can conduct searches within the specified journal.


Interlibrary Loan (ILL) Possibilities

You must have a complete single article citation to request an ILL. Libraries have agreed to abide by a set of general guidelines which do not allow for copying of complete issues of items.  If you feel you really must have a complete issue, please discuss this with a librarian before submitting your request.  Interlibrary Loan Policies & Guidelines

Two journals recommended that the library does not have full-text access to are Urban Geography and Gender, Place, and Culture

To locate articles in these journals, use the WorldCat Discovery Advanced Search option and search by Journal Source; Source and a keyword or phrase appropriate for your topic.  Do not limit to Goucher College Library unless you only want to find those items we have access to.

Worldcat Discovery Journal search example


Why Peer Review?

Peer review is about striving towards the TRUTH – the very quest of scientific enquiry!  -- Roganie Govender, speech & language therapist at University College London Hospital

Time to reflect: The process provides a reviewer with the opportunity to reflect on someone else’s work and to provide thoughtful comment using his/her own knowledge and expertise of the subject.  Being asked to review a manuscript assumes that the reviewer has some expertise relevant to the content, and that this knowledge will be helpful in evaluating the merits of a piece of work. Equally on receiving feedback from peer review, authors have time to reflect on how their research is viewed by experts in the field. It is a time when improvements can be made to a manuscript via constructive exchange between authors and peer reviewers/editors.

Research quality: ... have been reviewed and given quality ratings. On some level, I like to think that peer review does the same for scientific publications. It provides some quality assurance to consumers of research.

Understanding our ethical responsibility as researchers: We undertake and publish research in the hope that our findings will contribute to the betterment of some phenomenon. In medical research this may impact people’s lives. The way in which we conduct research and the basis upon which we make claims should therefore be subject to scrutiny. Authors and reviewers share this ethical responsibility.

Training: ... engaging in the process of peer review, either as a reviewer or as an author receiving feedback contributes greatly to my training and development as a researcher. I see it as an opportunity for academic dialogue. Peer reviewing the work of others has helped me to think more critically about my own work.

Helping each other: Peer review makes me feel part of the scientific community.  There is some satisfaction in knowing that I can have input into improving a piece of work, and that others may do likewise for me. I would like to believe that reviewers share this sense of collegiality.

Modified from blog post:


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