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Primary Source Research and Discovery

An introduction to primary source research

What is a Primary Source in the Sciences?

Did you know that, in the sciences, there are different types of scholarly articles?

Primary resources, including primary or original research articles, explain the results of an experiment or research project. Primary articles are written by the researchers who conducted the experiment and describe exactly what they did. They are very narrow in focus and contain specialized language or jargon.

Secondary sources are written about primary sources. They may be written by experts in the field, like a primary source, or by other writers or journalists. They will often present a broader perspective on a topic than a primary source.

  Primary Source Secondary Source
Definition
  • Are about brand new research
  • Report of results/facts/finding from an experiment or research study
  • Written by the people who did the research
  • Usually will contain a methods & materials or methodology section
  • Give the reader facts about the research NOT interpretation
  • Analyze one or more primary sources
  • Can be written in response to a primary article
  • Does NOT contain original research
  • Not written by the people who did the original research
What would you use this for?
  • Finding recent data
  • Information about a very specific topic (for example, the results of a random trial for a new AIDS drug)
  • Finding broader information on a topic (for example, a book or article about AIDS research)
  • Analysis or interpretation of current research

What kind of materials contain this sort of resource?

  • Scholarly articles that present brand new research
  • Conference papers or proceedings
  • Datasets
  • Dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Lab Notebooks
  • Studies or Surveys
  • Technical Reports
  • Review articles
  • Scholarly articles that respond to or analyze primary sources
  • Books
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Guides to literature
  • Handbooks
  • Reviews
  • Tables
Examples    

 

Finding Primary Sources in the Library Databases

The best way to tell if you are looking at a primary source is to read the "Methods and Materials" section of the article and look for details about how the research was conducted. However, some library databases provide some indicators if the article is original research (primary) or a review article (secondary).

Database Name Refine Search by Primary Source Secondary Source
Types of Sources in Databases: Note, please refer to databases in the Find Articles section of this guide.
Biological Abstracts Literature Types   Literature Review; Editorial
Web of Science Document Types Proceedings Paper; Article Review; Editorial Material; Letter
Science Direct Will appear next to title in results "Original Research Article"