Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

FYS 100 - Dr. El Mounadi: Primary and secondary resources

Primary and secondary sources in the sciences - definitions & examples

Primary and Secondary Sources


In the Sciences, primary sources are materials that provide a description of original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on photosynthesis. A secondary source would be an article by authors, usually not from the original research group, commenting on that scientific research on photosynthesis..


  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




Primary Source Secondary Source
  • Book 
  • Journal Article
  • 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).