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Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

This guide will provide resources to students majoring and/or taking classes in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology within the Department of Biology and Earth Science and the Department of Chemistry

Primary Vs. Secondary Vs. Tertiary Sources






Original research or materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a secondary party. Reports of scientific discoveries, experiments, or clinical trials. These are factual and not interpretive.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source. Analyzes and interprets research results or scientific discoveries.

Information which is distillation of primary AND secondary sources


Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, technical reports, and diaries

Review articles, magazine articles, books, laws and legislation, public opinion, and social policy.



-Published results of research studies, clinical studies, or scientific experiments

-Proceedings of conferences or meetings

-Publications about the significance of research or experiments.

-Analysis of a clinical trial

-Review of the results of experiments or trials

Almanacs, Bibliographies, Chronologies, Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Fact Books, Guidebooks, Manuals, and Textbooks.

Specific Examples

-Einstein’s diary

-Article in a scholarly journal reporting research and methodology

-Books about Einstein’s life

-Articles or books analyzing and commenting on the results of original research

-Dictionary on the Theory of Relativity

-Bibliography of resources in a particular field

Primary and Secondary Sources for Science

In the Sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the human immune system. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on the human immune system.

Primary Source

Secondary Source


Original materials that have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation by a second party.

Sources that contain commentary on or a discussion about a primary source.


Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle.

Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle.

FORMATS--depends on the kind of analysis being conducted.

Conference papers, dissertations, interviews, laboratory notebooks, patents, a study reported in a journal article, a survey reported in a journal article, and technical reports.

Review articles, magazine articles, and books

Example: Scientists studying Genetically Modified Foods.

Article in scholarly journal reporting research and methodology.

Articles analyzing and commenting on the results of original research; books doing the same



Primary Source

Secondary Source

  • Conference Papers
  • Correspondence
  • Dissertations
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Lab Notebooks
  • Notes
  • Patents
  • Proceedings
  • Studies or Surveys
  • Technical Reports
  • Theses
  • Criticism and Interpretation
  • Dictionaries
  • Directories
  • Encyclopedias
  • Government Policy
  • Guide to Literature
  • Handbooks
  • Law and Legislation
  • Monographs
  • Moral and Ethical Aspects
  • Political Aspects
  • Public Opinion
  • Reviews
  • Social Policy
  • Tables
 Source: The Evolution of Scientific Information (from Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, vol. 26).

What is a Primary Source?

"Primary sources are 'fundamental, authoritative documents relating to a subject, ...e.g., original records, contemporary documents, etc.' (Young, Heartsill, ed. The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association, 1983, p.176). Primary source documents are first-hand accounts by a direct participant or observer and may include letters, diaries, interviews, photographs, films, maps, government documents, and more.

For the arts, history, and humanities, original primary source documents usually are housed in museums, archives, restricted library collections, and government offices. Reproductions of primary source documents often can be found in online digital collections, microform collections, books, and other secondary works."

For the sciences, primary sources usually refer to original accounts of a research study. Find a fuller explanation in the SUNY Albany resource below.

(Used with permission of the Alfred R. Neumann Library Staff at the University of Houston

Instruction and Research Services Committee, History Section, Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association. Tips for locating, evaluating, and citing primary source material found on the World Wide Web.

Original Research vs. Review Articles. How can I tell the Difference?

Research vs Review Articles

It's often difficult to tell the difference between original research articles and review articles. Here are some explanations and tips that may help:

"Review articles are often as lengthy or even longer that original research articles. What the authors of review articles are doing in analysing and evaluating current research and investigations related to a specific topic, field, or problem. They are not primary sources since they review previously published material. They can be of great value for identifying potentially good primary sources, but they aren't primary themselves.

Primary research articles can be identified by a commonly used format. If an article contains the following elements, you can count on it being a primary research article. Look for sections titled:

Methods (sometimes with variations, such as Materials and Methods)
Results (usually followed with charts and statistical tables)

You can also read the abstract to get a good sense of the kind of article that is being presented.

If it is a review article instead of a research article, the abstract should make that pretty clear. If there is no abstract at all, that in itself may be a sign that it is not a primary resource. Short research articles, such as those found in Science and similar scientific publications that mix news, editorials, and forums with research reports, however, may not include any of those elements. In those cases look at the words the authors use, phrases such as "we tested"  and "in our study, we measured" will tell you that the article is reporting on original research."*

*Taken from Ithica College Libraries