Primary versus Secondary Sources
|DEFINITION||An original object or document-the raw research or first-hand information.||Comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the primary or original source.||Provide background information or compilations by synthesizing information gathered from other sources, usually secondary sources.|
|TIMING||Primary sources usually come first in the timing of scholarly publication.||Secondary sources usually come second in the timing of scholarly publication.||Tertiary sources usually come third or last in the timing of scholarly publication.|
|TYPES||• Letters & diaries
• Speeches and interviews
• First-hand news accounts
• Government reports
• Laws and legislation
• Creative writings (ex. novels or poetry)
• Results of scientific experiments
|• Critical reaction to an
experiment or to a piece of literature
• Analysis of social, cultural or economic trends
• Review of the literature on a topic
|• Overviews or background info
• Compilation of citations and
abstracts (ex. library
• Statistical handbooks
|EXAMPLES Psychology Student
(studying the psychological effects of the 9/11 Attacks on children)
|Schuster, M. A., B. D."A National Survey of Stress Reactions After the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 345, No. 20, November 15, 2001, pp. 1507–1512.||Alexander, G. (2007). International relations theory meets world politics. In Understanding the Bush Doctrine: Psychology and strategy in an age of terrorism (pp. 39–64). New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.||• PsycINFO (Library database)
• Kazdin, A. E. (2000).
Encyclopedia of psychology.
Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
|United States. (2003). Project Bioshield Act of 2003 report (to accompany H.R. 2122). Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O.||Alexander, D., & Klein, S. (2003, December). Biochemical terrorism: too awful to contemplate, too serious to ignore: subjective literature review. British Journal of Psychiatry, 183 (6), 491–497.||• Biological Sciences (Library database)
• Pilch, R. F., & Zilinskas, R. A.
(2005). Encyclopedia of bioterrorism defense.
Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-LISS.
Primary Sources in Science
In scientific research, primary sources include articles reporting on the results of original research, plus the data gathered by scientists.
Some clues to help you identify a scientific primary source:
- Most primary source research articles begin with an abstract.
- You will likely see a section which discusses results -- which may include tables or graphs.
- Look for references at the end of the article- often this will be a long list.
- Articles are usually more than 5 pages long.
For details on this distinction review the chart below, adapted from a research guide prepared by the Library at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
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