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Chemistry Databases

Primary/Secondary

Graphic courtesy of Ohio Northern University

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Definition & Characteristics of Sources

Definitions of what is primary or secondary differs across the disciplines. For the sciences, this is how we would define the different types of sources:

Primary source literature in the sciences:

  • documents the results of original research
  • is written by those who have conducted the research
  • includes firsthand information about their methodologies, data, results, or conclusions.

Secondary source literature in the sciences:

  • summarizes, compares, critiques, or interprets the primary literature.

Tertiary sources in the sciences:

  • are collections of primary and/or secondary sources.

Characteristics of primary sources in the sciences include:

  • Report original research, ideas, or scientific discoveries for the first time
  • Report results/findings/data from experiments or research studies
  • May also be referred to as primary research, primary articles, or research studies
  • DO NOT include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources
  • Are frequently found in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals
  • Should explain the research methodology used (randomized controlled trial, etc)
  • Frequently include methods, results, and discussion sections
  • Are factual, not interpretive

Examples of Sources

Primary Sources Secondary Sources
Research articles published in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals Summaries, critiques, or interpretations of primary literature
Clinical trials Review articles
Interviews Textbooks (can also be a tertiary source)
Correspondence Dictionaries (can also be a tertiary source)
Patents Directories (can also be a tertiary source)
Lab notebooks Encyclopedias (can also be a tertiary source)
Data sets  
Theses & dissertations  
Technical Reports  

 

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