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Nursing and Midwifery: Academic sources

Resources for students and staff

What are academic information sources?

Academic or scholarly sources:

  • Are written by experts for other people working or studying in their field
  • Aim to generate new knowledge, or to synthesise or summarise existing knowledge
  • Aim to inform, not entertain
  • Use formal language
  • Include citations and references

Sources which may be scholarly:

  • Research journals
  • Conference papers
  • Theses
  • Some books

Sources which are probably not scholarly:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Trade journals
  • Wikipedia
  • Information written for the general public
  • Information that doesn't include references

Why use scholarly sources?

  • More likely to be accurate and have usually been peer reviewed
  • They may contain specialist knowledge which isn't available elsewhere
  • They can provide details of recent research findings
  • You are expected to use (mostly) academic sources while at universityMonash University Library YouTube

What are primary sources?

Sources of information are often categorised as primary, secondary or tertiary depending on their relationship to the events described.

The characteristics of primary, secondary and tertiary sources will differ within different academic disciplines, notably between the sciences and the humanities.

Sources will be designated as primary sources due to their content regardless of where they are in the dissemination cycle, or whether they are available in their original format, in microfilm or electronic format, or formally published. 

Primary Sources

  • Report original research, ideas or scientific discoveries for the first time, or the results/findings/data from experiments or studies that the authors conducted themselves
  • Frequently include Methods, Results, and Discussion sections, and should explain the research methodology used
  • Are commonly found in academic journals and may be referred to as primary research, primary articles, journal articles, or research studies
  • They could also be papers from conferences, dissertations, meetings or laboratory notebook data, technical reports, statistical data, interviews, surveys, fieldwork, correspondence, or patents.

Secondary sources

  • Seek to add value to the information reported in the primary literature
  • Describe, interpret, analyse, evaluate or appraise the primary sources, the evidence provided or the significance of the research
  • They may be reviews, literature reviews, systematic reviews or meta-analyses
  • Could also be letters to the editor, editorials, commentaries, biographies, book chapters, treatises, or any index or bibliography used to locate primary sources

Tertiary sources

  • These consist of information which is a compilation of primary and secondary sources in a specific subject area
  • Materials in which the information from secondary sources has been condensed or put into a convenient, easy-to-read form
  • May be guidebooks, manuals, almanacs, indexes, fact books, chronologies, directories, encyclopedias, patient care sheets or point-of-care tools.


What is peer review?

Peer reviewed articles are evaluated by experts before publication. These experts check that the article:

  • is of a high standard
  • makes a meaningful contribution to the field

Peer reviewed articles are usually published in academic journals or conference proceedings.

Take the quick guide to peer review for more information.

Finding peer reviewed articles

Library Search and many databases let you limit your search results to peer reviewed material

  • In Search:
    • Do your search
    • Select "Show only... Peer reviewed journals" from the options on the left

Show peer reviewed journals screenshot

  • Databases may have an option on the results page, or a check box on the search page
    • You may need to select Advanced Search
  • If you've found an article and you're not sure if it's peer reviewed, look up the journal its from in Ulrichsweb

Further resources

Evaluating the reliability of sources (tutorial)

This tutorial will enable you to identify the key features of quality academic sources.

Time required: approximately 15 minutes.