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COM362 - Business and Sustainability

Primary or secondary sources?

Primary sources:

  • are the original materials or evidence to be analyzed, evaluated, contextualized, or synthesized in the research process.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they are usually from the time period under study and offer first-hand accounts or direct evidence responsive to the research question.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, they are the first articles published formally describing a research project or study.

Secondary sources:

  • analyze, evaluate, contextualize, or synthesize evidence. They often give second-hand accounts based on engagement with primary sources.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they comment on or analyze texts, oral communications, artifacts, or archives of primary sources.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, because many primary sources are scholarly articles reporting first-hand on new studies or research, the secondaries often synthesize or analyze many such results.

Watch the following video (2:26min) for a quick overview of the differences between primary and secondary sources:


See examples of primary and secondary sources below and test your knowledge with UVic Libraries primary vs. secondary sources tutorial:

Scholarly or popular sources?

"Scholarly" or "popular" are terms used to describe a source's content, purpose, audience, appearance, citations and more. Popular sources are useful for getting ideas for a topic or for background and anecdotal information. Typically, however, you should support your arguments by citing scholarly articles, which contain original research written by experts and do not contain glossy pages or advertisements.

Many article databases such as Business Source Complete allow you to limit your results to scholarly sources.

Scholarly sources: Popular sources:
  • original research published in journal
  • written by experts in the field
  • are usually peer-reviewed (evaluated by other experts in the same field)
  • include citations
  • usually are longer, about 10-30 pages
  • general interest stories which may refer to research but do not contain original research
  • written by the general public
  • are not peer-reviewed
  • rarely include citations
  • tend to be shorter, about 200 words to a few pages

Watch the following video (2:59min) for a quick overview:

Watch the following video (2:45min) to learn how the peer-review process works and how to find peer-review sources:


Test your knowledge with UVic Libraries scholarly vs. popular tutorial:

Using popular sources in business research

Trade and professional publications:

Publications such as magazines, journals, newspapers, blog articles and white papers that are written for a particular professional or trade/industry audience are considered trade publications.

These resources focus on trends, forecast, and issues of interest to people working in a specific industry or profession.  For this reason trade publications can be of particular use to business researchers. Like popular media sources published for a general audience, trade publications can include news, current events, statistics, advertisements, editorials, notices of events, and reports.

Find trade publications in various databases including:



News is sometimes our only source of external information about a small or private company. News or interviews with CEOs can provide really current and up to date information about a company’s performance, products, problems, actions, and strategy. It can also be a good source for the most current industry trends, projections, overall economic conditions, and social factors. Depending on your geography or topic, searching across news databases may help you update your research.

See the following guides for business news and other popular sources and how to search across the library's news databases:


Beyond the library there are numerous websites which may provide additional information that is useful for your research.

Quality sources are often buried, use targeted Google searches and look out for content from governments (trade and statistical agencies), international organizations, regulatory agencies, trade associations, professional research/consulting firms etc.

Evaluating sources

With any resource, be sure to approach it with a critical eye, and consider:

  • Authority – Who is the author? Do they have valid credentials? Look at the first few pages of the source to see who the author is and with which institution they are affiliated.
  • Purpose – Who is the intended audience? What is the intended purpose of the publication?  To sway opinion?  To report out on a study they did? Does the purpose of the resource suit your research?
  • Content – How well does the resource address your topic? If it only partially addresses your topic, you may need to find additional resources.
  • Currency – When was the work published? Look at the year when the item was published. Sometimes older material is too out of date.
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