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Finding Primary Sources

Learn what primary sources are and how to find them.

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources & Grey Literature

Primary Sources are:

  • Researchers reporting first-hand about their new research
  • Includes some Journal articles and some Books (monographs)
Secondary Sources are:
  • Summarizing, analysing or reporting the work of other researchers.
  • No new research results are presented
  • Include Review articles, Systematic Reviews, Newspaper articles, some books and others
Tertiary Sources are:
  • Summarzing the well known and well accepted information on a subject
  • Includes textbooks, encyclopedias, websites, etc.
Grey Literature
  • Unpublished materials
  • May include lab notebooks, blogs, pre-prints, conference presentations, etc.

Recognizing Primary Sources in the Sciences

Typically, Primary journal articles will have a common structure that includes:

  • Abstract 
  • Introduction 
  • Methods/Methods & Materials 
  • Resultts
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion. 

Secondary/Review articles frequently contain many of the same sections but frequently will not have a Methods or Methods & Materials section. If they do, they will discuss how the articles to be reviewed were found and selected.

Look for a Methods or Methods and Materials Section as a quick check to see if an article may be primary. Read this section to see if the researchers are talking about their new research.