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Black Women's Studies

This guide features information about black feminist/womanist studies.

Identifying and Evaluating Sources


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  • can become outdated as information usually takes a while to find it's way from a primary source to a tertiary source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.

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.

Criteria for evaluating resources:

  • Accuracy
    • How does this resource match up with others you've seen? 
    • Do the results seem plausible? 
  • Authority
    • Who created it? 
    • What are the qualifications of the creator?
  • Content
    • Is this written in a ‘professional’ manner?  
    • Is it sloppy? 
    • What kind of evidence does the creator use to support what they are saying?
  • Purpose
    • Is this written in an objective, detached way? 
    • Is this someone’s personal opinion? 
    • Who is the intended audience?
  • Timeliness
    • When was this produced?
    • If a website, when was this updated last? 
    • How old are the works that are foot-noted/cited?

Some examples:

For more detailed information see Evaluating Information Found on the Internet (Johns Hopkins University)

Anyone can create a Web site. It is important to find out who is the author and what are the author's qualifications or expertise in order to determine the credibility and reliability of the information.

.com Produced by a commercial enterprise, trying to sell something or funded by advertisers
.edu From an educational institution (college, high school, museum)
.net Network of computers
.mil A military site
.gov Produced by the government
.org Produced by a nonprofit organization
.uk, .cn, .us, etc. A country-sponsored site A web site from the state of Maryland


Primary Sources

How to Identify Primary Sources

There are two main types of sources that scholars use to conduct research, primary and secondary. The University of New South Wales at Sydney gives these helpful definitions:

Primary sources provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. Often these sources are created at the time the events occurred but they can also include sources that are created later. They are usually the first formal appearance of original research.

Secondary sources involve analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources.

Scholarly journals, although generally considered to be secondary sources, often contain articles on very specific subjects and may be the primary source of information on new developments.

Primary and secondary categories are often not fixed and depend on the study or research you are undertaking. For example, newspaper editorial/opinion pieces can be both primary and secondary. If exploring how an event affected people at a certain time, this type of source would be considered a primary source. If exploring the event, then the opinion piece would be responding to the event and therefore is considered to be a secondary source.

There's more information and examples of the different types of sources on the UNSW library site. To learn more, we encourage you to check out these other online resources:

Special Collections on African American Studies

For even more primary resources on African Americans, please visit the UMD Special Collections website.