Graziano and Raulin (8th ed)Graziano & Raulin
Research Methods (8th edition)

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources provide reviews of entire areas of research--organizing and discussing many research reports. However, they are not intended to provide the detail you will find in the original sources, such as research reports in journal articles. Furthermore, the newest research discussed in a secondary source is at least one to two years older than the paper's date of publication due to the normal publication lag. You will still have to search current journals to find the most recent research. 

Secondary sources provide important information; they summarize, organize, critique, and integrate research areas and identify further directions for research and theory development. They also list the critical studies in the area in their reference sections. They are an invaluable source in your literature review and are particularly useful when you need a broad, integrated view of your topic.

Review Articles in Journals

Although most journals report the results of original research studies, other journals specialize in integrating the results of many studies in reviews that attempt to organize and make sense out of a broad area of research. There are several journals in psychology that are devoted completely or primarily to reviews. Some examples are Psychological Bulletin, Psychological Review, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Clinical Psychology Reviews

Review articles, if done well, are one of the most critical elements in science. They organize vast areas of research around a coherent set of theoretical principles, and they help scientists to make sense out of a vast array of data. For more information on this role, we recommend an essay included on this website called Chaos in the Brickyard.

Books and Chapters in Books

Reviews of research areas are also published in books and chapters in books. In fact, edited books are becoming a major secondary source of information in psychology. Fortunately, Psychological Abstracts and PsycINFO now include both books and book chapters in their databases.

The primary advantage of books and edited books over journals is that there are far fewer space constraints. This affects books in two ways. The first is that it is often possible to explain concepts in more detail, so that someone relatively unfamiliar with an area will have little difficulty in following the explanations. Another advantage is that if there is a good reason for writing a book, one can usually get the book published. There are only so many pages devoted in research journals on a given topic, and if there is more good material than will fit, some of it will be rejected. With books, if you have more good material than will fit in one book, you write two books, or three, or four. As long as there is a market for the material, because the information is useful and interesting, a book can be published.

One of the major disadvantages of books as a source of information stems from one of its advantages. If there is interest in a topic, one can usually get a book published. In contrast, only the material judged to be most critical and careful is published in research journals. Therefore, there is often less quality control in books than there is in journals. 

Some books are classics, with impressive scholarship and brilliant ideas, but not all books rise to this level. In fact, some books represent rather poor scholarship. Therefore, it is important for students to be cautious in accepting things that they read in books, looking for confirmation from other sources before accepting ideas uncritically.

Many books now are edited. These books provide individual chapters by authors who have some expertise in the area they are writing about. Edited books are a major source of information now in psychology, but like any book, they vary tremendously in quality. 

The quality of an edited book will depend on the quality of the editor and the quality of the individual authors. Generally speaking, the best guide to this will be how widely published the authors are on the topic covered in their chapter, although this principle does not always apply. Most experts on a topic have published extensively on the topic. 

Another problem with edited books is that, unlike journals, if a chapter is delivered late by an author, the book is often held up. This can result in outdated material since some chapters were finished a year or two before the last chapter of the book came in. In contrast, if material is late for a journal, it is pushed back into a later issue and other material is inserted in its place. Nevertheless, edited books are probably one of the most significant secondary sources in psychology today.

Annual Reviews

This series—published by Annual Review, Inc.—provides an annual volume in each of many scientific disciplines, including psychology and neuroscience. The Annual Review of Psychology and Annual Review of Neuroscience are good examples of secondary sources of information. They contain comprehensive review articles of psychological and neuroscience research in defined areas. You should check recent volumes of these annual reviews to see if there is a review of your topic. If it is there, you will find a wealth of information about research in that field and many references to other work. Furthermore, these chapters are typically written by some of the best scholars in the field, and they represent thoroughly researched opinions on the state-of-the-art in a given field.


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