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Primary and Secondary Sources for Science  

Last Updated: Jan 25, 2017 URL: Print Guide

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Primary vs. Secondary Sources for Science

The idea of primary sources in the sciences are a little bit different than primary sources in the humanities or social sciences.  In the sciences, the focus is on the research. 

Primary sources are written by the scientists who performed the experiments - these articles include original research data. 

Secondary sources are summaries or comparisons of a lot of research in a particular area.

So how can you tell if a science article is a primary source?  Primary research articles will include sections about:

  • methodology -  explaining how the experiment was conducted
  • results - detailing what happened and providing raw data sets (often as tables or graphs)
  • conclusions - connecting the results with theories and other research
  • references - to previous research or theories that influenced the research

(Source - University Libraries - U.S. Carolina)


Primary Sources in the Sciences....

  • Report original research, ideas, or scientific discoveries for the first time
  • Report results/findings/data from experiments or research studies
  • May also be referred to as primary research, primary articles, or research studies
  • DO NOT include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources
  • 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


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

(Source- Michigan State Libraries)

Selected Scholarly Journals


Evaluating Websites

Remember to evaluate the websites that you find for the R.E.A.L.

Thesis Statements for Science

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