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Reading Strategies

Sift Method

Try using the SIFT method to find the strongest evidence you can for your papers. 

Remember, not all information you find online is equally credible, and reading to write means being choosey about the sources you use for evidence.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Is your source

  • first-hand information (a primary source) or
  • another's analysis and interpretation (secondary source)?

Recognizing the difference between the two can help you choose quality sources that match your assignment requirements.

Primary and Secondary Source in the Sciences & Arts

Source Type Typical Examples from the Sciences Typical Examples from the Arts
Primary Sources
  • patents/designs
  • technical reports
  • journal articles outlining
    • original studies
    • experiments
  • newspaper articles
  • audiovisual materials (photos, films, etc.)
  • diaries, letters, interviews
  • survey data
Secondary Sources
  • systematic reviews
  • meta-analysis of articles
  • book reviews
  • journal articles
  • books
  • dissertations

Remember! How you use a source determines if it is primary or secondary. Anything can be used as a primary source if you ask the right research question about it!

For example, a Canadian business textbook published in 1995 could be a 

  • primary source if you use it to explain how business was taught during the 1990s (like in a research paper)
  • secondary source if you use its models and recommendations to support an argument about how your company will be successful (like in a business proposal)

Secondary Source Credibility

Make good critical use of credible sources in your research.   

Source Credibility Based on Level of Review
The bottom of the blue vertical arrow is labelled "least credible" and the top is labelled "most credible." Bullet points are listed beside the arrow; the list order (from least to most credible source types) goes unethical sources, unreviewed sources, editorially reviewed sources, scholarly sources, and peer-reviewed sources. 

Detailed Image Explanation

  • Scholarly peer-reviewed sources are considered very credible because they have been systematically reviewed by multiple experts. Examples of these include academic journal articles and books from university presses.
  • Scholarly sources are also considered relatively credible as they have been extensively researched, cited, and referenced. They often have received some critical review. Examples of scholarly sources include dissertations, conference proceedings, and grey literature.
  • Editorially reviewed material is considered slightly less credible, as it usually is only reviewed by an editor for grammar. Claims are not always fact-checked. Examples of editorially reviewed material include popular magazines and newspaper articles.
  • Unreviewed material should be used with caution as a secondary source as it has undergone no clear review process. This material includes blog posts, website posts, or student assignments. You can find this sort of material on websites like SlideShare and Prezi.
  • Unethically published material is problematic and has low credibility. This includes papers created for the purposes of contract cheating from companies like Study Moose and Essay 48.


Ryerson. (2021, July 5). Research help guide: Evaluate your sources.