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ENGL 1920: Advanced Writing for Professionals: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources in the sciences differ from primary sources in other fields. In the humanities or social sciences primary sources typically include historical records and first-hand accounts of events (diaries, interviews, recordings, etc.), while primary sources in the sciences refer to those sources reporting original research.

Primary sources in the sciences have the following characteristics...

  • Report original research, ideas, or scientific discoveries for the first time
  • Report results/findings/data from experiments or research studies
  • Are frequently found in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals
  • Should explain the research methodology used (randomized controlled trial, etc)
  • Frequently include methods, results, and discussion sections
  • Are factual, not interpretive

Examples of these sources include...

  • Research studies or scientific experiments
  • Papers and proceedings from scientific conferences or meetings
  • Dissertations and Theses
  • Technical Reports
  • Patents

Secondary sources in the sciences may include books or articles commenting or analyzing the results of original research. Examples of secondary sources in the sciences include the following...

  • Book reviews
  • Review articles / reviews of current literature on a specific area of research
  • Analyses of clinical trials
  • Letters to the editor, opinion pieces, etc.

Adapted libguides provided by Michigan State University Libraries and SUNY Albany Libraries.