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Environmental Sciences: Primary v. Secondary

How do I tell if a resource is primary, secondary or tertiary?

**Keep in mind that the sciences defines primary and secondary sources differently than other disciplines such as history.

Primary Scientific Literature

Secondary Scientific Literature

Tertiary Literature

Original materials on which other research is based.                     Describes, interprets, analyzes and evaluates primary sources of information. Sources that compile, analyze, and digest secondary sources. They tend to be factual.
Usually the first formal appearance of results in print or electronic literature. Comments on and discusses the evidence provided by primary sources.                                        Examples can include: dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, indexes and bibliographies.                    
Information is presented in its original form - not interpreted or condensed by other writers. Prime examples are review articles - these articles are often one of the best starting sources for information on a particular topic. 
Presents original thinking, reports on discoveries, or shares new information.                                


Finding and Identifying PRIMARY Scientific Articles

  • You can examine the abstract or the full-text of an article to determine if it is primary scientific research, but you may need to look at the full-text to appropriately identify an article - particularly if you are new to reading scientific literature.
  • Look for identifiable sections in the article text including:
    • Abstract
    • I ntroduction
    • M aterials/Methods
    • R esults
    • A nalysis
    • D iscussion
    • Conclusion
  • If you DON'T find materials/methods and results/discussion sections, it is VERY unlikely that you have a primary research article.