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The University of Arizona


Guide for finding and using library resources for College of Nursing students.and faculty

Understanding scholarly literature

Your assignments will often state that you need to use scholarly, peer-reviewed, or primary literature. If you are not familiar with these terms, they can be very confusing! Here are some definitions and examples to help you.


Scholarly or academic sources:  These are written by experts for other people working or studying in their field, using formal language and including citations and references. Sources which are generally scholarly include research journal articles and conference papers. Non-scholarly sources, often called popular sources, include magazines, newspapers, trade journals and most information that doesn't include references. You will rarely consult popular sources for your coursework.

Peer-reviewed (refereed) literature

These articles are evaluated by experts before publication to ensure that the research and writing meet high standards and make a meaningful contribution to the field.  Peer reviewed articles are usually published in academic journals or conference proceedings. 

One way to verify that a journal is peer reviewed is to use the Ulrich database:

a. Go to the AHSL home page ( and click on the Databases tab above the search box, or click the Ulrich link above.
b. Type in the term Ulrich in the database search box. Click on the link for "Ulrich's International Database of Periodicals" in the search results. 
c. On the first page of the Ulrich's site, type the title of the journal (NOT the title of the article) in the search box, and click on the magnifying glass to search. 
d. Find the journal you want in the results list, and see if there is a black and white jersey (referee's jersey!) next to the title. If it has a jersey, the journal is refereed/peer reviewed. 

If you are still not sure whether an article you have found is a specific article or research type, please contact Maribeth for help!

Research articles

Research articles are usually published in scholarly or peer-reviewed journals. Journals publish many different types of articles so it can be tricky to identify original research.  

Sometimes the title will mention the type of research study such as a "randomized controlled trial".  Some databases, like CINAHL, specifically label research articles. Most citations for research articles include the following sections (or similar sections) - this indicates that they are a research article, but you may need to dig to figure out what kind of research has been conducted! 




Primary, secondary, or tertiary sources

Sources are considered primary, secondary, or tertiary depending on the originality of the information presented and their proximity or how close they are to the source of information. 

Primary Sources 

Primary sources are original materials/information on which other research is based. They include journal articles of original research, conference papers, dissertations, technical reports, and patents. Primary sources are also sets of data, such as health statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted.‚Äč They are written by the researcher or researchers who performed the research. 

Secondary Sources 

Secondary sources analyze, evaluate, interpret, re-package, summarize or reorganize information reported by researchers in the primary literature. They include review journals, review articles and textbooks.  

Tertiary Sources 

Tertiary sources consist of primary and secondary source information which has been collected and distilled. They present summaries of or an introduction to the current state of research on a topic, summarize or condense information from primary and secondary sources, or provide a list of primary and secondary sources of more extensive information. Examples include encyclopedias and almanacs. 



Associate Librarian

Maribeth Slebodnik's picture
Maribeth Slebodnik
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ
College of Nursing, Room 321
Skype Contact: maribeth.slebodnik