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New Graduate Students in Anthropology

This guide serves as a landing page and resource guide for those starting their graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park

Click on each tab for more information about the format of publication including some hallmark traits and benefits of each format. Please contact me,, if you have any additional questions or would like some help finding good material

Types of Sources

What does this mean? 

One of the most important concepts to understand when studying history and anthropology is the difference between different source-types. While there is some debate about whether some sources conform to these basic types, the three principle forms of historical sources are:

Primary Source

PRIMARY SOURCE is, essentially, a document or other artifact produced at the time of, or during, the time studied. A classic and easily understood example would be something like parliamentary procedures, letters, diaries, newspapers, and more. These sources represent a specific time period and thus reflect contemporary views and opinions. PRIMARY SOURCES provide evidence and insight when analyzed carefully and used appropriately. 

Secondary Source

For researchers, the product of a close analysis of PRIMARY SOURCES yields literature in the form of a long-form book or a scholarly article. These works represent the culmination of study using PRIMARY SOURCES, but reflect the THESIS and HISTORICAL PHILOSOPHY of the researcher. An example of a SECONDARY SOURCE would be a book that addresses a particular time in history (as opposed to a survey text, which we'll look at next) and analyzes PRIMARY SOURCES and uses HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION to tell a particular and focused story (ex. Anderson, David. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013). or Parthasarathi, Prasannan. "Rethinking Wages and Competitiveness in the Eighteenth Century: Britain and South India,"  Past & Present, 158 (1998). 

Tertiary Sources

It can be really rather difficult for those new to the study of history to understand the difference between a SECONDARY SOURCE and a TERTIARY SOURCE because at first glance, they seem to cover the same territory. In essence, however, a TERTIARY SOURCE represents a culmination of SECONDARY SOURCES and presents sweeping histories of vast time periods. The most familiar form of these types of material would be the standard textbook in high school and lower-level college history courses. These books, and for that matter, courses are referred to as SURVEY books or courses respectively. These books will cover epochs like The Middle-Ages or The Nineteenth-Century and will be, more or less, a presentation of the generally accepted narrative on a given time period. Think of these books as a starting place and a way to become familiar with the era which you are studying. 

For More Information: 

For more information about PRIMARY, SECONDARY, and TERTIARY sources, please reference the excellent book: Tosh, John and Lang, Sean. The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods, and new Directions in the Study of Modern History. (New York: Longman, 2002).  

Like an original research article, a scholarly book is characterized by its academic content and its authoritative author (usually a professor or academic researcher. A scholarly book typically - but not universally - represents a study or a line of work that investigates a hypothesis and illustrates the conclusions and results. This can be a theoretical idea, a proposal, an experiment, and other such academic activities. 

This scholarly material sits in contrast to a work of popular science, Anthropology, Archeology or Ethnography, often simplified as pop-sci and can be easily found in book shops and airports (think National Geographic, or a general book on Native American culture). 

Importantly, however, one shouldn't get the idea that popular science is a bad thing. Popular science writing is an important public good and when done well can help enlighten society with important scholarly ideas in a more digestible form. The clarity of the writing and the nature of the work should often be praised and not sneered at. For a research paper, however, these sources are typically inappropriate due to their lack of rigor and, importance, the lack of peer-review.

Scholarly VS. Popular Science
  Scholarly Science Books Popular Science Books 
  • Advance research in the field
  • Explore original research and implications
  • Illustrate the lineage of the research and the history of ideas 
  • Provide context for the original research and discuss its importance
  • Should provide the data and charts to allow scrutiny of results and analysis 
  • For use primarily by scholars and students
  • Present ideas, but not typically original research
  • May present the history of the ideas being discussed, but may not present antithetical ideas or the full scope of the academic debate
  • Can provide a good introduction to the topic, but is typically too shallow to be of more substantiative use
  • May argue personal opinions, agendas, or political beliefs in a way that may discredit original claims or at least call them into question
  • Primarily for the general population 



  • Uses the accepted, academic methods of citation and attribution to validate their work
  • Relies on the strength of past work to boost their claims
  • Reference list is easy to follow and allows one to trace their research path
  • Work may have few or no citations
  • Sources may be less reliable and not scrutinized as much as would be critical in a peer-reviewed article 



  • Each author is a scholar or researcher in the field 
  • Writing to further the work in the field 
  • Author may be a journalist, pundit, or a professional
  • May not have academic ties and will be aiming their work towards a general audience 
  • Uses the specific terminology and language of the field -- also known as "specialized vocabulary"
  • Terms will be known by the scholars in the field 
  • Language may be dense and difficult for those not accustomed to the field
  • Typically written with the general public in mind
  • Does not tend to use specialized vocabulary, or if it does, will explain the importance of the terminology 
  • May overly simplify complex ideas
  • Specialized commercial and academic publishers
  • Tend to be from a university press (Oxford University Press, University of Florida Press, etc.)
  • Cover may be dull (although certainly not always)
  • Will be published by a wide-range of publishers from all fields 
  • Will often have an exciting and well designed cover

An original experiment or research project conducted and reported by the principal researchers. Typically published in an academic research journal such as Cultural Anthropology.


These publications typically follow a standard construction and focus on both the investigator's hypothesis as well as a discussion of methods and an analysis of data. See the below "Anatomy of a Research Article" for more information on this. 

Despite literature review sections and a discussion of the project, these papers are typically very formally written and rigidly structured in their presentation of an assay. This is in contract to the more open essay, which while similar aims for a different purpose (more in the Essay section) 



The main difference between a literature review and an original research article is that a literature review is surveying the existing literature of a topic and exploring the existing theories, hypotheses, studies, trials, etc. and trying to make clear the conversation that is told through the research community. A literature review can and will also be a component of an empirical study, but in this example, the review will be acutely focused on the topic that is being studied and will not, generally, be a holistic review of the larger issues and confounding elements. 

  • An original research article (empirical study) recounts the methods and results of new research, typically an experiment conducted and reported.
  • A literature review is a survey of multiple studies and other writings centered around a field of study. This can illustrate the conversation and the debate within a field and it's status quo

Society publications are one of the most misleading and confusing types of publications for those unfamiliar with the varied forms of scholarly publications. This confusion is made worse by the fact that many databases will include society publications in its list of journal articles with little or no comment to help distinguish between the two. 

A society publication is essentially a trade magazine that is commissioned and distributed by a particular professional association (ex. AAA), company, sector (ex. Sociolinguistic), lobby group, interest group, and more. These are interesting places to learn about the field, but they are rarely peer reviewed and are not typically the place researchers will formally share their work. These publications are often written by journalists and will likely cover recent advancement and studies, but will not be the deep and authoritative source for this information. Because they cover the topic, however, they may be a good place to start if you're investigating a new study or line of research. These publications will also be an interesting window into the discipline you're thinking of entering. 

Essays are a little tricky to determine if you are not well versed in the literature. In fact, essays tend to share many of the characteristics of peer reviewed articles, but do not typically reflect the reporting of a direct experiment or new research. Essays as they are defined are the presentation of an argument and therefore tend towards the obviously persuasive. In other words, the author is using known works and research to highlight a particular point and is focused on the established and embellishment of ideas relevant in their field. In Anthropology, essays are important as they tend to provide insight into an author's perspective and theoretical grounding. Additionally, essays are a space where new theories are developed and argued. In Archaeology, for example, whole schools of thought have been developed in scholarly essays and journals focused on more theoretical areas of practice. This distinction can be difficult for students new to the disciplines as often these essays are published along-side studies in journals. Essays can also be found in professional magazines, newsletters, and high-credentialed popular sources such as the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement (among others).  

Chapters in a scholarly book range from the formal presentation of an experiment, ethnography, field study, scholarly essays, and more. Scholarly books often stem from conferences when organizers feel new work has been brought to the fore and deserves a wider audience. Typically the chapters represent formal studies arranged around a central theme (ex. time as a sense in the Amazon basin) and is arranged by how the authors fir within this area of study. These books are often exciting as they tend to represent a new direction in a field and often allow authors to experiment with new theories and methods along with colleagues working on similar projects. 

Scholars often communicate (in text form) through citations and reviews. Reviews are therefore great for two purposes directly 1) getting a concise summary of a book usually including an analysis of the central thesis and presentation of data and 2) a sense of where both the author being reviewed sits within the field as well as the reviewers' approach to theoretical models and analysis. The latter is especially important if you are trying to understand how a particular Archaelogist or Anthropologist views their field and the approach to practice. 

Popular articles are typically found in general interest magazines like National Geographic, Archaeologist, Time, etc. and reflect two things most readily: 1) the public interest in the topic and 2) a plain-English explanation of the content and research. This can be particularly helpful when first first getting into a research area. 

This is the real bread & butter of the Anthropologist field. Ethnography is the account of a culture. The best description, to my mind, is found in the essays of Clifford Geertz in his monumental work The interpretation  of Cultures  (which you can find here in the library, Especially in the essay "Notes on a Balinese Cockfight," the notion of "Thick Description" is key to the practice of Ethnography which is a system by which to interpret culture. Geertz's work has become important for many disciplines in the humanities like history as well as areas like public health and medical research. 

Anatomy of a Research Article

(click on the image for an interactive view)

(Courtesy of NCSU Libraries under the Creative Commons License