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SCI 100- Science: First Year Seminar- Davis: Evaluating Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources in the Sciences


Primary sources are published works generated on the front lines of science. They record new knowledge coming from field work and laboratories of the discipline. They are the source of original data which either supports or invalidates the researcher's hypothesis. They include: published reports of original research, experiments, direct observations in the field and the theories that arise from them. Examples include meta-analysis of experimental research, original experimental research studies written by researchers and published in scholarly journals, laboratory notebooks and other original recorded data, conference presentations on original discoveries, doctoral dissertations based on original research.


Secondary sources are published works which interpret, comment on or evaluate primary sources.Examples include published systematic review articles, expert opinion, committee reports, background articles, book reviews, etc.

Rule of Thumb

If the author is NOT the person who did the research, it's secondary.

The big question is... that you've found this information, how do you use it in your paper?

In order to decide if the source is reliable, ask yourself these questions: responsible? Who gathered the information, wrote it, produced it? Are they trustworthy?

 WHAT...type of information does the source give you? Broadly or narrowly focused?          

WHEN...was it created? Is it too old, too new, or just right for your needs?

WHERE...did the information come from? Does the author share the sources used to     create this book, article, web site, etc?

WHY...was it created? To state the facts, to argue a point, to change your mind about  an issue, to entertain?

HOW...does it fit into your research? What does it add to your knowledge?



Biology (Grasses) by Kate Brady from Flickr

Note: Scholarly in Science=Primary