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Evaluating Information: Primary vs. Secondary

Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Primary sources present original research methods and results for the first time.

Secondary sources do not present new research. They provide a compilation or evaluation of previously presented materials.

  • Journal article or book presenting new findings, new theories, usually with data
  • Eye-witness account or observation
  • Scientific articles summarizing research or data (e.g., Scientific American, Discover)
  • Encyclopedias, handbooks, textbooks

May be labeled as Research or Report                                                                            

May be labeled News or Review


  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Dissertations
  • Manuscripts
  • Memoirs
  • Interviews


  • Textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Articles critiquing
  • Biographies



Criteria to help determine if an article is a primary or secondary source.

Primary Literature

Secondary Literature

Always peer-reviewed.

May or may not be peer-reviewed.

Title is a brief statement of a research project, usually very technical

Title may sound technical, or may sound broad or "cute"

Topic has a very narrow focus.

Topic may be a broad overview.

Abstract is usually present.

Abstract not usually present.

Introduction to topic is provided.

Introduction to topic is provided.

Methods & Results sections are present.

Methods & Results sections are usually NOT present.

Data in figures & tables are usually provided.

Data in figures & tables are usually NOT provided.

Discussion Section is usually provided.

Discussion Section - the whole article may be considered a discussion.

Adapted from the GateWay CC Library's Primary vs. Secondary Sources Guide.

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