Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
 

BIOL 120: Intro to Biological Inquiry: Primary & Review Articles

Primary Sources Video

 

Primary & Secondary Sources
Learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources, and use them appropriately in your research.

CLIP video, 6 min.)

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources Defined

PRIMARY SOURCES DEFINED

  • Are first-hand accounts or individual representations and creative works.
  • Are created by those who have directly witnessed what they are describing.
  • Bring us as close to the original event or thought as possible without being filtered, influenced or analyzed through interpretation.
  • Tend to be original documents that do not usually describe or analyze work by others.
  • May be published or unpublished works.


WHEN TO USE PRIMARY SOURCES

  • When you want to make claims or criticisms.
  • As evidence for theories.
  • To gain timely perspectives on a topic.


EXAMPLES

  • General Examples: Letters, diaries, speeches, interviews, correspondence, court cases, newspaper articles about current events.
  • Natural & Physical Sciences: Analyzed results from original studies, field data, experiments and research.
  • History: Transcript of a speech; newsreel and video footage.
  • Literature: Original literary works such as books, short stories, and poetry.
  • Art: Art works by artists.
  • Social Sciences: Interview transcripts of patients; raw, unanalyzed population data; newspaper articles about events.

SECONDARY SOURCES

  • Are second-hand analyses of other peoples' works.
  • Offer extensive and in-depth analyses of primary sources.
  • Summarize, evaluate, and analytically interpret primary material.
  • Are not evidence, but are useful sources of  different experts' views of the primary sources.
  • Are one step removed from the original or primary source. 
  • Are published works, that list their sources of information which can be then used to locate additional information for your research.

WHEN TO USE SECONDARY SOURCES

  • When you need a summary of primary source.
  • To analyze or evaluate primary source.
  • When an outside and neutral perspective is needed.
  • To place first hand experiences into a broader context.


EXAMPLES

  • General Examples: Textbooks, scholarly books, analyses, review articles, dissertations, theses.
  • Natural & Physical Sciences: Articles that reviews and evaluates the theories and works of others
  • History:  Article analyzing a speech; book recounting battle history; biographies.
  • Literature: Literary critiques that examine writing style and techniques.
  • Art: Lecture given about and artist's techniques; criticism or a review of artist's work.
  • Social Sciences: News commentaries; articles analyzing results of a study; a book that discusses population trends over time; evaluations of social and government policy, law and legislation.

TERTIARY SOURCES

  • Are distillations and collections of primary and secondary sources.
  • Present a summarized factual representation of information.
  • Are free from biased points of view and critiques.
  • Are the last documents to be published in the information cycle. 
  • Tend to consist of highly reliable and accurate information,
  • Contain broad perspectives of topics. 
  • Offer a general overview of your topic and background information for your research.  

WHEN TO USE SECONDARY SOURCES

  • When factual information is needed
  • When basic information is needed.
  • When definitions or statistics are needed.


EXAMPLES

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, guides, directories, classification systems, chronologies, and other factbooks.