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Climatology & Climate Change: Primary and Secondary Literature

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources are different in the sciences than other areas of study. The question to ask to determine if a source is primary or secondary in science is, "Did the authors of this paper collect the data?" There are several clues to answer this question. 

Primary source—the work represents original research

Secondary source—the work reflects on, synthesizes, or reviews the research of others. 

Clues that the article is a primary source: 

  • Analyzes the data collected by the authors. 
  • Abstract may include phrases like "we observed," "we collected samples," etc. 
  • Usually includes a methods section. 
  • Will include a review of past work by others, but this is meant to provide context for original data collection and analysis. 

Example of primary source because authors collected the data, as indicated by "this study reports on monthly sampling" in the abstract.

Clues that the article is a secondary source: 

  • Describes the work of other scientists.
  • Title or abstract includes the terms reviewliterature review, or meta-analysis
  • May not include a methods section. 


The article below is a secondary source, not only because it says "review" in the title, but also because the article mentions it is a survey of other articles. 

Review Article Example