Primary vs. Secondary Research
When performing research, most writers will come across a variety of information from a variety of different places. All of these sources can be classified as either primary or secondary sources.
Primary Source: A primary source is an original study, document, object, or eyewitness account. In other words, this is the source where any given information first appeared. For instance, if a scientific study is performed, the primary source is the initial report that is prepared by the scientist(s) who performed the research.
Secondary Source: A secondary source is a document that is written about the primary source. These are often documents that report, analyze, discuss, or interpret primary sources.
- If I perform a survey of Aims students and report the results in an essay, I am the primary source for this information. If someone else reads my essay and decides to use the same information I reported in his/her essay, this becomes a secondary source.
- If a scientist performs research and writes a report about the findings, this is the primary source for the information. If someone else evaluates the way the research was performed and/or the findings, this is a secondary source.
- If I am writing a literature analysis paper, quoting the book or author I am analyzing is a primary source. Quoting or paraphrasing opinions about the book or its significance from literature professors and/or critics is a secondary source.
Depending on the essay being written, both primary sources and secondary sources may be acceptable types of sources. For instance, if a writer is writing an argument essay about the need to pass a certain amendment, she can quote or paraphrase both the amendment itself (the primary source) and the opinions or studies of others that analyze the effectiveness of the amendment (secondary source).
Finding Primary Sources:
Even though secondary sources are often acceptable, primary sources are often better than secondary sources, and there are times when primary sources must be used. While most of the sources that are found during research are secondary sources, it is often possible to also track down the primary source. To do this, look at the references, works cited, bibliography, or internet links (for an internet source) provided in a secondary source. These will often lead you to the primary source itself; after all, these writers have to document their sources just as you have to.
A primary source is a document or record which reports a study, experiment, event or other phenomenon firsthand. When a nurse researcher interviews patients about their health behaviors, a pharmaceutical company conducts clinical trials on a new drug, or a health care facility surveys its nursing staff, they are creating primary information.
Primary sources are usually written by the person(s) who did the research, conducted the study, ran the experiment, or witnessed the event. Primary sources are detailed first reports of the results of this original research.
Look for the following elements when deciding whether a journal article is a primary source reporting the results of original research:
- Problem and Purpose
- literature review or synthesis of the theory and other research relevant to the topic being studied
- a description of the population or sample in the study;human subjects
- an outline of methodology;
- data collection
- data analysis
- a report of results and a discussion of their significance; implications
- From http://libguides.wcsu.edu/content.php?pid=90408&sid=1207147
- Are those which were written during the period in which the information occurred
- Primary sources are not necessarily the sources you primarily use, but they are the most fundamental information on the topic
- Published at the time the event occurred, by someone in the actual event
- For historical events, a primary source on Abraham Lincoln would be either one written by Lincoln (such as the Gettysburg Address) or by someone who knew Lincoln. They could be documents or artifacts created during the time period
- Are those reviews and accounts written AFTER an event occurred
- Secondary sources analyze and interpret primary sources and are used primarily for presenting the views of others about your primary sources
- For historical events, a secondary source on Abraham Lincoln could be a book, magazine article, or internet site written after his death
- For topics in the Nursing/Medical field, a secondary source might be an article written about a procedure and then evidence described about its effects. The Primary source would be an article written about the procedure written by the person who developed the procedure