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Research Paper Primary And Secondary Sources

To do research, you must cite research. Primary sources do not represent research per se, but only the artifacts from which most research is derived. Therefore, the majority of sources in a literature review are secondary sources that present research findings, analysis, and the evaluation of other researcher's works.

Reviewing secondary source material can be of value in improving your overall research paper because secondary sources facilitate the communication of what is known about a topic. This literature also helps you understand the level of uncertainty about what is currently known and what additional information is needed from further research. It is important to note, however, that secondary sources are not the subject of your analysis. Instead, they represent various opinions, interpretations, and arguments about the research problem you are investigating--opinions, interpretations, and arguments with which you may either agree or disagree with as part of your own analysis of the literature.

Examples of secondary sources you could review as part of your overall study include:
    * Bibliographies [also considered tertiary]
    * Biographical works
    * Books, other than fiction and autobiography
    * Commentaries, criticisms
    * Dictionaries, Encyclopedias [also considered tertiary]
    * Histories
    * Journal articles [depending on the disciple can be primary]
    * Magazine and newspaper articles [this distinction varies by discipline]
    * Textbooks [also considered tertiary]
    * Web site also considered primary]

Primary or secondary sources

Primary sources

  • are the original materials or evidence to be analyzed, evaluated, contextualized, or synthesized in the research process.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they are usually from the time period under study and offer first-hand accounts or direct evidence responsive to the research question.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, they are the first articles published formally describing a research project or study.

The history how to: primary sources guide has lots more information.

Some examples of primary sources include:

Social Sciences & HumanitiesScience & Engineering

Primary Sources

  • Historical newspapers
  • Documentary photographs or videos
  • Corporate or organizational records
  • Works of art, literature, or music
  • Eyewitness accounts or testimony
  • Interviews
  • Diaries, journals, or letters
  • Statutes, laws, or regulations
  • Speeches, legal decisions, or case law
  • Archaeological or historical artifacts
  • Survey research   
  • Articles describing the research design and findings of original studies
  • Articles describing new experiments or sets of experiments
  • Reports on original research or observations
  • Technical reports
  • Patents or industrial designs

Secondary sources

  • analyze, evaluate, contextualize, or synthesize evidence. They often give second-hand accounts based on engagement with primary sources.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they comment on or analyze texts, oral communications, artifacts, or archives of primary sources.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, because many primary sources are scholarly articles reporting first-hand on new studies or research, the secondaries often synthesize or analyze many such results.

Some examples of Secondary sources include:

Social Sciences & HumanitiesScience & Engineering

Secondary Sources       
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Scholarly books or monographs
  • Interpretive newspaper or magazine articles and editorials
  • Interpretive blog posts
  • Book, art, music, or theater reviews
  • A non-eyewitness record of an event written by someone without a close connection to the event
  • Quantitative meta-analysis articles that use statistical methods to determine relationships or patterns in the published scholarly literature on a topic
  • Systematic review articles that use a research question to select and synthesize published evidence relevant to that question
  • Survey articles that summarize an entire field of research
  • Scholarly book reviews

Adapted from "Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources"  (http://collegeresearch.gmu.edu/primary-secondary-tertiary/) by George Mason University licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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