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ENGL 2131 American Literature: Types of Sources

The guide is for ENGL 2131 (American Literature) class.

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Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources -- In literature, the primary source is the work which you are studying. It is an original work of literature, and does not analyze, interpret or evaluate another work of literature. Here are examples of primary sources:

  • A newspaper article by Fanny Fern
  • A short story: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving
  • A poem: "Because I could not stop for death" by Emily Dickinson
  • A novel: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • A play: "Othello," by William Shakespeare

Secondary Sources -- These works analyze and interpret primary sources. Here are examples of secondary sources:

  • An article from a literary journal that evaluates the role of nationalism in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
  • A book of essays comparing themes of nature and the land in Henry David Thoreau's Walden and his later book Excursions.
  • A line-by-line commentary on Anne Bradstreet's "Upon a Fit of Sickness, Anno. 1632," noting the poet's concerns with religious themes such as the hope of salvation.
  • A book about the American Dream and individualism in slave narratives such as Frederick Douglass's My Bondage and My Freedom and Sojourner Truth's speeches.

This video will give you more examples:

Scholarly and Popular Sources

In scholarly research, it is important to use high quality sources. Many professors will require you to use "scholarly sources" because there are more credible than popular magazines or most websites. What's the difference?

Most research databases label articles as being published in either a scholarly journal/academic journal or a popular magazine/magazine/newspaper.

Scholarly/ "Peer Reviewed"/Academic Journals

Popular magazines & newspapers

Articles written by experts in their fields of study

Articles written by journalists

Reports on in-depth research and analysis

Written for entertainment or general information

Author’s credentials and affiliation stated. Usually a university or research institution.

Writer may or may not be identified

Has extensive citations and references

Might mention information sources in text or suggestions for additional reading.


Watch this video to find out more....

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