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BIOL 403: Research in Molecular and Cellular Biology: Primary & Secondary: Definitions & Examples

Primary Source--Definition

A primary source is original research. Primary sources serve as roots from which all other documents must refer back to. Consequently, primary sources are published or created before secondary sources.

Examples of Primary Sources

Keep in mind that primary sources include both published and unpublished items.

  • Scientific discoveries published in journal articles
  • Experiments published in journal articles
  • Published surveys
  • Published clinical trials
  • Conference papers/proceedings
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Interviews
  • Laboratory notebooks
  • Patents
  • Technical reports
  • Raw data

Secondary Source--Definition

A secondary source is information based on original research (primary sources). Secondary sources may comment, analyze, summarize, review, and discuss the findings of original research. Consequently, secondary sources are published or created only after primary sources.

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Analyses or commentary on research
  • Discussions about the significance or impact of research study
  • Reviews or summaries of previous studies
  • Books
  • Newspaper articles
  • Magazine articles

Learn More!

Want to learn more about the distinctions between primary sources in the sciences and primary sources in the humanities? Check out these definitions and examples.