Every science database includes a mix of primary and secondary resources. While many databases allow you to separate scholarly sources from popular sources, they do not do this for primary and secondary sources. To differentiate between primary vs. secondary, you must visibly examine each item to ensure it was written by the scientists that performed the original experiment.
Use some of the criteria listed in the box below to make that determination.
A primary source in the sciences is usually a report on the results of an experiment by the person or group who performed it. They are usually published as scientific articles. Primary scientific articles contain high-level vocabulary and will usually present original data, often displayed in tables or charts.
The scientist reports the results of his or her own research. It is not a comment on someone else’s research, although the scientist may refer to someone else’s work in the body of the paper to illustrate the points he/she is trying to prove or disprove. Most scientific journals that are peer-reviewed are likely to contain primary literature. Peer-review means that a panel of experts will review all articles submitted for publication before they are accepted by the journal.
In a primary research article, you will typically see many or all of the following elements clearly presented:
The presence of these components indicate that the author is presenting new data and ideas.
Secondary sources in the sciences are written with less technical language so that they appeal to a broader audience - not just for those studying or working in the specific field. Secondary sources are not the original source of information, and they lack the detailed description of the experiments/research found in primary sources.
Secondary sources provide:
Some examples of secondary sources are: