Skip to Main Content

ESPM 6: Environmental Biology

Identifying Primary Sources

Primary research presents original research methods or findings for the first time (a "first report"). Examples:

  • A journal article, book, or other publication that presents new findings or new theories, often with data and a 'materials and methods' section.
  • A newspaper account written by a journalist who was present at the event he or she is describing is a primary source (an eye-witness, first-hand account), and may also be primary "research"
  • Some websites can be primary sources, such as those that present primary data (example)

Other types of primary sources include:

  • Original documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • Creative works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • Relics or artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Secondary research does not present new research but provides a compilation or evaluation of previously presented material. Examples:

  • A scientific article summarizing research or data, usually called a review article or literature review
  • An encyclopedia entry and entries in most other reference books
  • A textbook, as well as other scholarly or academic books that repeat information that is already published

If a news source reports on a new scientific study that was published in a journal, the journal article would be the primary source of the study's findings, not the news article.

Note that the vast majority of empirical articles (a term used in Education and Social Sciences) are probably primary literature, but not all empirical articles are primary.