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Public Health

Guide to selected resources in Public Health.

Scholarly and Popular Materials

Identifying Primary and Secondary Articles


Before you begin your research, learn about clues to look for when identifying scholarly articles.


SCHOLARLY literature:

  • contains the study methods and results of research performed by the author(s) of the article
  • is written by/for those with some knowledge in a particular field of study - a certain level of familiarity with the subject is assumed
  • gives the professional affiliation of the researcher in order to establish his/her credentials in their field
  • is extensively referenced - authors must cite the work of others as it pertains to their own work
  • is reviewed by peers who work in the same field (i.e. "peer-reviewed")

POPULAR literature:

  • may be written by experts in a given field or by professional writers
  • is written for a lay audience
  • does not usually contain references


Additionally, it is important to understand the difference between PRIMARY and SECONDARY sources.

PRIMARY literature:

  • contains an "experimental methods" section
  • recounts experiments that have been been performed by the authors of the articles themselves
  • contains "raw data" compiled by the authors which will usually be presented in tables or charts
  • attempts to address a specific hypothesis
  • has references which give pertinent background information for the hypothesis being addressed in the paper

SECONDARY literature:

  • often takes the form of a review article
  • contains a summary of experiments performed by the author as well as other researchers
  • may contain tables and figures, but usually not as many as a primary source
  • is a good place to go to learn about a field of study with which one is unfamiliar
  • has references which give a history of the research that has been done in a specific area of study

TERTIARY literature:

  • is often comprised of compilations of primary and secondary literature
  • is a good place to go to learn basic principles and facts about a particular field of study
  • can become outdated as information usually takes a while to find it's way from a primary source to a tertiary source
  • includes: almanacs, encyclopedias, text books, manuals, dictionaries, etc.

Types of Resources

 Magazines & Newspapers            

  • Written for a general audience
  • Typically what you would see in a bookstore or on a magazine stand
  • Intended to inform and/or entertain
  • Popular journals do not undergo 'peer-review' process
  • Can be found in many of the article databases to which the University of Maryland subscribes
  • Examples: TimeSports IllustratedScientific American, etc. 

   Scholarly Journals    

  • Written by/for experts in a given field
  • Usually these are available through academic libraries or anywhere there is a need for the highly specialized information contained within these publications
  • Intended to inform
  • Undergo 'peer-review' process prior to publication (see below)
  • To focus on these resources when searching UM article databases, be sure to limit your search to 'scholarly' or 'peer-reviewed' literature
  • Examples: American Journal of Public HealthGenetic Epidemiology,Family and Community Health, etc.


  • Overview, broader in scope
  • Can be out-of-date

Open web

  • Large variety in terms of quality
  • As opposed to subscription-based internet resources such as article databases and e-journals that the UMCP libraries subscribe to.

Read and Analyze the Literature