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Explore Information — Primary & Secondary Sources - Sciences

Primary & Secondary Sources in the Sciences - Overview

Primary Sources

In the sciences, primary sources are very specific.  Primary source documents in the sciences focus on original research, ideas, or findings and are most often published in scholarly journals or presented at academic conferences.  These articles or presentations mark the first publication of such research; they present new data and detail the researcher’s methodology and results.

Primary sources are factual, not interpretive, and include sources such as

  • published results of research studies, experiments, clinical trials
  • proceedings of conferences and meetings
  • patents
  • technical reports

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources in the sciences analyze and interpret primary research results.  These sources usually have the goal of summarizing, explaining, or providing an overview of a topic, and can help place the research in context.  Secondary literature is often published in books, magazines, or journals.

Secondary sources include sources such as

  • review articles, which summarize previously published studies
  • articles that discuss the significance of published research or experiments
  • analyses of clinical trials

Recognizing a Primary Research Article

In the sciences, primary research articles have a similar basic structure. Most will have these sections or a subset of them, but all should have a "methods" section and a "results" section.

chart of article structure

Finding Primary & Secondary Sources

Library Databases

The best place to search for primary research and secondary/review articles are in library databases. 

Most databases have filters or limits to help refine your search to the type of article you need - studies, trials, or reviews, for example.  When searching for primary research articles especially, however, you still need to carefully examine the article to determine if it is scholarly and contains original research.  See Recognizing a Primary Research Article for more information.

UConn Library Research Database Locator - find databases by subject

Research Guides

Library Subject Specialists create Research Guides that provide information and instruction on research within specific subjects.  Each guide varies, and may include strategies for searching and evaluating primary research articles, and other helpful resources in that field.  For additional help finding primary sources in a subject, contact the subject specialist profiled in the specific research guide.

Identifying Primary Research Articles in the Sciences (video)

video from University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries