Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources in the Health Sciences.

Sources are considered primary, secondary, or tertiary depending on the originality of the information and how close they are to the source of information.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are original materials/information on which other research is based. These include:

  • Journals or Periodicals: main type of publication in which scientific research is reported. 
  • Theses: detailed accounts of research conducted for the awarding of higher academic degrees.  In many cases, it will also be later reported in a condensed form as a journal article.
  • Conferences: Papers presented at conferences may or may not be subject to editorial scrutiny. Conference papers may not published at all, published only in abstract form, published in advance of the conference as a preprint, published in book form, or as a special issue of a journal.
  • Reports: individual publications reporting research. They may report internal research within an organization, or research done by an individual or organization under contract to a client. They may be freely available, available only to members of an organization, only available by purchase, or published in a journal article. 
  • Patents: provides research information on new products or processes. Once published, patent information is freely available, but rarely republished in journal articles.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources analyze, evaluate, interpret, re-package, summarize, and reorganize information reported in the primary literature. These include:

  • Review Journals : These generally start with titles such as Annual Review of …, Advances in …, Current Opinion in …
  • Article Reviews : Articles that summarize the current literature on a specific topic.
  • Textbooks : These can be either specialized to a narrow topic or a boarder overview.
  • Data Compilations :  Statistical databases, Vital & Health Statistics, etc.
  • Article Indexes/Databases: Such as MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources consist of primary and secondary source information which has been collected and distilled. They present summaries of or an introduction to the current state of research on a topic, summarize or condense information from primary and secondary sources, or provide a list of primary and secondary sources. These include:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Almanacs
  • Fact books
  • Research Information TimelineResearch Quickstarts/Library Course Pages/Pathfinders
Last Updated: Oct 2, 2020 11:20 AM