Skip to Main Content

Primary Sources


Primary source articles have these qualities: 

  • Report original research, ideas, an/or first-time scientific discoveries
  • Report experiments or research findings, results, and/or data
  • Referred to as primary research, primary articles, primary literature, or research studies
  • Appear in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals
  • Include the research methodology, e.g. primary research relies on direct data collection
  • Include methods, results, and discussion sections
  • Are factual instead of interpretive and don't replicate other studies

Secondary source articles have these qualities: 

  • Report the significance of research or experiments
  • Review the results of several experiments or trials
  • Include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews
  • Analysis of clinical trials
  • Non articles, e.g. letters to the editor, editorials, etc.

Tertiary sources have these qualities: 

  • Combine both primary and secondary source material
  • Provide context or background information on a topic
  • Examples typically are encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, etc.

Where to Find Primary and Secondary Source Articles

Indexes to disciplinary literature are tertiary sources (a combination of primary and secondary sources), and they can be an effective tool for finding primary sources. 

Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources are articles that disseminate original research results. 

  Primary Source Secondary/Tertiary Source
Definition Articles with first-hand information or original data that has not been interpreted, evaluated or analyzed. Work that analyzes, summarizes, interprets, reorganizes primary sources. 
Similar Descriptions Primary literature, original research article, empirical article, research article, peer-reviewed article, scientific paper, scholarly article. Popular magazines, newspaper articles, textbooks, encyclopedias
Timing of Publication Cycle Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle. Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle. Tertiary after that.
Formats--depends on the kind of analysis being conducted. Conference papers, poster presentations, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, empirical studies, technical reports, surveys, and instruments. Review articles, magazine articles, and books
Example: Scientists studying Genetically Modified Foods. Article in scholarly journal reporting original research and methodology on topic. Articles and books analyzing and commenting on the results of original research

Source: The Evolution of Scientific Information (from Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, vol. 26). Retrieved from


Last Updated: Jul 24, 2024 2:57 PM