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Primary Sources for Science: Home

Learn about what are considered primary sources, how to find them at GSU, how to use them, and how to cite them.

What are primary sources?

PRIMARY SOURCE: The original research experiment discussed by the researchers what they found

SECONDARY SOURCE: An interpretation, commentary, or analysis of someone else's research (of a primary source)

TERTIARY SOURCE: A collection of primary and/or secondary sources

*Note: what is considered a primary source varies by discipline

Primary Sources

Characteristics of a primary source

  • It is factual

  • It reports on original discoveries, ideas, and/or research

  • It is typically found in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals

  • It explains a research methodology

  • It gathers and analyzes data



Examples of primary sources

  • Original research experiments

  • Experimental Data

  • Proceedings from science conferences or meetings

  • Theses or Dissertations

  • Technical Reports

  • Patents

  • Lab Notebooks

  • Instrument measurements


Secondary Sources


Characteristics of a secondary source

  • It is interpretative 

  • It analyzes or comments on an experiment(s) or research

  • It reviews previous research or the published literature on a topic


Examples of secondary sources

  • Literature reviews

  • Systematic reviews

  • Meta-analyses

  • Letters to the Editor

  • Perspectives

  • Textbooks

*Note: these are all considered secondary sources even if they are published in a scholarly journal and/or have a research methodology


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Laura Carscaddon
Library South 542 (Subject Librarian suite)

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are reference materials like Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks, and Tables. They are collections of primary sources and secondary sources, that categorize and index information. 

Cite your sources!

A primary source is an original research article, experiment, or set of data. It is someone else's discovery, idea, or intellectual property, so you MUST cite a primary source correctly to give those researchers credit. 

Click to learn more about the different citation styles!