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Primary vs. Secondary Table

Primary Literature Secondary Literature

Original research results in journals,
dissertations, conference proceedings, etc.

Examples: Medicine & Science in Sport Exercise (ACSM), Journal of Athletic Training

Textbooks, review articles, etc.

Examples:  The Nature of Disease,Guyton & Hall's Medical Physiology

Primary Sources

When we speak of primary source material in the health sciences, what we are basically talking about is original research -- the work researchers do in the laboratory and then write up and publish in formal lab reports and/or research articles that you will encounter in the health sciences journals.

Primary sources provide

  • A detailed description of experiments
  • References to other experiments and researchers in the field
  • Source material for latest findings  

One finds primary source material in the research journals or trade journals that cover specific disciplines in the health sciences or in published conference proceedings.

As primary source material presents original research, the articles tend to be narrow in focus and difficult to read unless you are an expert in the specific subject area of the research. The target audience is other people in the same field that share the common terminology.

Primary sources are important in that they are the original sources of new knowledge. Primary source articles are often cited or referred to in other articles -- sometimes a secondary source or sometimes other original articles.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are written in language that is more accessible to a broader audience -- not just for those well-versed in a specific field. As they are not the original source of information, they lack the detailed description of the experiments and research that will be found in the primary source.

In the health sciences, secondary sources are those that discuss the original research of others. They often summarize, interpret, and analyze material found in primary source research.  Often, a secondary source such as a popular health science magazine or your textbook will be the first place you hear about some new original research. These sources usually provide enough citation information so that you can track down the primary source material.

Secondary sources provide context for the primary source material, giving readers:

  • Summaries of scientific work
  • Perspective
  • Facts

Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • Textbooks like Guyton & Hall's Textbook of Medical Physiology
  • Review articles in health sciences journals
  • Websites like Science Daily