University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Research Help

Primary & Secondary Sources for the Sciences

Primary Sources

  • Are reports on a study, experiment, trial, or research project.
  • Are written by the persons who did the research, conducted the study, or ran the experiment.
  • Include a title, abstract, introduction, hypothesis, methods, results, discussion, & references.
  • May fill Gaps in the Literature.

Primary Source Types

  • Case ReportA detailed report of the symptoms, signs, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of an individual patient that usually describes an unusual or novel occurrence. Case Reports are one of the cornerstones of medical progress and provide new ideas in medicine.
  • Clinical Studies There are two main types of Clinical Studies:
    • Clinical Trial: Researchers test an intervention, such as a potential drug, medical device, activity, or procedure, to find out if it is safe and effective. It also is referred to as an interventional clinical study. See also Randomized Controlled Trial.
    • Observational Study: Researchers observe participants on their current treatment plan and track health outcomes.
  • Cohort Studies Observational studies of groups selected by their exposure to factors hypothesized to influence occurrence of a particular disease or other outcome.
  • Dissertation
  • Laboratory Notebook
  • Pilot StudySmall-scale tests of methods and procedures to be used on a larger scale if the pilot study demonstrates that these methods and procedures can work.
  • Prospective StudyStudy design in which participants at risk for developing a condition are observed over time in order to isolate factors that influence the development of disease.
  • Randomized Controlled Trial A clinical trial where participants are randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a control group. The test-treatment group receive the treatment being studied while the control group receives either an alternative treatment, no treatment or a placebo. Effects of the treatments are monitored to determine the efficacy of the treatment while reducing bias in both researchers and participants.
  • Research Article Articles that report on original research. Include sections such as: title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion/conclusion, and references/bibliography.

Secondary Sources

  • Summarize, list, compare, or evaluate primary studies to draw conclusions on, or present current state of knowledge, on a topic.
  • Often result in evidence-based recommendations or practice & professional guidelines.
  • Include a reference list to direct you to the primary research reported in the article.

Secondary Source Types

  • News
  • Meta-Analysis Report combining multiple studies on the same question in order to validate and strengthen conclusions using statistical analysis.
  • Patient Education Handout
  • Practice Guideline Directions or principles to assist health care practitioners with patient care decisions for specific clinical circumstances.
  • Systematic Review Seeks to answer a specific research question by identifying, appraising and synthesizing empirical evidence that meets specific criteria for inclusion, using explicit and reproducible methods to minimize bias.
  • Systematized Review Attempt to include elements of systematic review process while stopping short of systematic review. Typically conducted as postgraduate student assignment.
  • Rapid Reviews, Scoping Reviews and other Review types Articles which summarize previous research on a topic and which are limited in scope by timeframe or other factors.

Learn more about reviews:

How to find primary and secondary sources

Primary and secondary sources can be found in research databases. Many databases contain both primary and secondary sources but include filters to limit your results to one of the source types listed above. Find research databases for your subject area in the research by subject guide for your course, topic or program or choose one of the following:

Questions & Help

If you have questions, librarians are here to help!