Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources in the Sciences report original findings and ideas. Types of publications that report the results of original scientific research include: 

  • Research articles from scholarly journals
  • Conference papers and proceedings
  • Technical reports
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Patents
  • Laboratory notebooks and diaries
  • Letters
  • Field notes and plant specimens

Scientific primary research sources are most commonly accessed in scholarly journal research articles. it is important to note that not all articles written in peer reviewed scholarly journals are research articles. They also publish book review, news type articles and review articles.

Finding Research Articles

Research articles are usually fairly easy to distinguish because they follow a standard format. To identify a research article, look for the following components or variations of them:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References

They usually present data in tables or graphs. Reading the article's abstract should also help you to determine whether the article is a research article.

When searching the periodical databases for research articles, your first step would be to limit your articles to peer reviewed or refereed journals. Doing this would eliminate any magazine or newspaper articles. When you find an article, read the abstract and look for the following words or variations of them: study, survey, measure, data, statistical, experiment, research. 

Some databases allow you to limit your research specifically to research. For example, when refining a search in the CINAHL database, under Publication Type you can limit your results to Research.

Primary Sources in the Social Sciences

Like primary sources in History, primary sources in the social sciences are works that were created or written during the time period which you are researching. Some examples of primary sources in the social sciences include: 

  • Statistical information
  • Census data
  • Maps
  • Photographs
  • Artifacts
  • Field notes
  • Government reports
  • Press releases
  • Treaties or international agreements
  • Speeches
  • Case studies
  • Clinical case reports
  • Interviews
  • Oral histories
  • Diaries
  • Memoirs
  • Letters
  • Newspaper or magazine articles (written from the time)
  • Research reports
  • Audio or video recordings

You can not always determine if an item is a primary or secondary source just because of the source it is found in. The context is very important. A primary source is the first hand information and the secondary source writes about, discusses or interprets it.

Need help? Ask a librarian.


Last Updated: 2017-08-28 2:43:36 PM