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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper

Offers detailed guidance on how to develop, organize, and write a college-level research paper in the social and behavioral sciences.


In the social sciences, a secondary source is usually a scholar book, journal article, or digital or print document that was created by someone who did not directly experience or participate in the events or conditions under investigation. Secondary sources are not evidence per se, but rather, provide an interpretation, analysis, or commentary derived from the content of primary source materials and/or other secondary sources.

Value of Secondary Sources

To do research, you must cite research. Primary sources do not represent research per se, but only the artifacts from which most research is derived. Therefore, the majority of sources in a literature review are secondary sources that present research findings, analysis, and the evaluation of other researcher's works.

Reviewing secondary source material can be of value in improving your overall research paper because secondary sources facilitate the communication of what is known about a topic. This literature also helps you understand the level of uncertainty about what is currently known and what additional information is needed from further research. It is important to note, however, that secondary sources are not the subject of your analysis. Instead, they represent various opinions, interpretations, and arguments about the research problem you are investigating--opinions, interpretations, and arguments with which you may either agree or disagree with as part of your own analysis of the literature.

Examples of secondary sources you could review as part of your overall study include:
    * Bibliographies [also considered tertiary]
    * Biographical works
    * Books, other than fiction and autobiography
    * Commentaries, criticisms
    * Dictionaries, Encyclopedias [also considered tertiary]
    * Histories
    * Journal articles [depending on the discipline, they can be primary]
    * Magazine and newspaper articles [this distinction varies by discipline]
    * Textbooks [also considered tertiary]
    * Web site [also considered primary]