Secondary Source Research Guides
In literary analysis, the story or drama or poem you are analyzing is called a "primary source." It is the equivalent of the biologist's crab or heart muscle, the art historian's painting or sculpture, or the sociologist's series of interviews with eighteen-to-twenty-two-year-old suburban college dormitory dwellers who play golf. "Secondary sources" are each discipline's own writing about what it has discovered in the primary sources after the discipline's theory and interpretive methods were properly applied. Almost all scholarly publications mingle together the primary and secondary sources because, were the authors only to announce discoveries based on primary sources, it would seem ill-informed not to have acknowledged the work of other scholars working on the same problems. We care about our colleagues' work, and they care about ours--that's the basic understanding of the business of scholarly research and publication. The links below will help you understand some additional rules governing how we use secondary sources.
What are "peer-reviewed" secondary sources?: "Peer review" is the highest standard for scholarly publication. Once you understand what it is and how it works, you will know why you always should use peer-reviewed secondary sources rather than even very clever, well-produced non-scholarly Internet sites.
What factors affecting the quality of book-length secondary sources?: To put it simply, books try to do bigger things than articles, and they take far longer to get into the marketplace of ideas. Their ideas tend to be very broad-based, and they hope their ideas will last a long time by being useful to many scholars. Who guarantees their quality and how?
When and why do scholars use secondary scholarly sources?: When readers pick up your paper, they already bring to the table expectations about where they will see secondary sources referred to, and why and how you will use those secondary sources. Knowing this in advance can keep you from misusing the secondary sources you worked so hard to find.