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Primary and Secondary Sources for Science

In the Sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the human immune system. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on the human immune system

Primary Source Secondary Source
DEFINITIONS Original materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a second party. Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source.
TIMING OF PUBLICATION CYCLE Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle. Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle.
FORMATS--depends on the kind of analysis being conducted. Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, a survey reported in a journal article, and technical reports. Review articles, magazine articles, and books
Example: Scientists studying Genetically Modified Foods. Article in scholarly journal reporting research and methodology. Articles analyzing and commenting on the results of original research; books doing the same

EXAMPLES OF PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SOURCES

Primary Source Secondary Source
  • Conference Papers
  • Correspondence
  • Dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Lab Notebooks
  • Notes
  • Patents
  • Proceedings
  • Studies or Surveys
  • Technical Reports
  • Theses

  • Criticism and Interpretation
  • Dictionaries
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Government Policy
  • Guide to Literature
  • Handbooks
  • Law and Legislation
  • Monographs
  • Moral and Ethical Aspects
  • Political Aspects
  • Public Opinion
  • Reviews
  • Social Policy
  • Tables

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


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