Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Westminster College Logo

BIO 601 - Ortiz: Choosing Your Sources Carefully

Resources and research tips for the biology capstone.

John Oliver on Scientific Studies

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

Primary Sources

  • Original research papers 
  • the "first" reporting of new scientific discovery
  • Published in peer-reviewed, professional journals specific to the scientist's field
  • Usually includes photographs, graphs, and tables 
  • Have an extensive bibliography
  • Includes lots of technical language and jargon specific to the scientist's field

Secondary Sources

  • the "second" reporting of a new scientific discovery
  • reports on discoveries in a more accessible form, so that those outside of the field can read and understand it
  • summarizes evidence
  • aimed a people who are not experts in a field, but have some knowledge of it
  • Usually includes graphs and tables
  • Has a bibliography
  • Often published in peer-reviewed, professional journals
  • Many labeled at "tutorial" or "review"
  • Do not usually include a "methods" section
  • Data presented will include a citation to the original research article
  • Includes more background information than primary literature

Tertiary Sources

  • the "third" reporting of new scientific discoveries
  • Usually found in newspapers, magazines, and internet publications
  • Often written by journalists who may not have a scientific background
  • Audience is the general public
  • report on and summarize new discoveries
  • rarely include bibliographies