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WatPD: Primary sources

Types of sources

  • Researchers report first-hand about their new research
  • These are direct accounts of an event, experiment, study, etc. that the researcher experienced 
  • Includes some journal articles and some books (monographs)
  • Authors summarize, analyze or report the work of other researchers
  • No new research results are presented
  • Includes review articles, systematic reviews, news articles, and some books 
  • Authors summarize the well known and accepted information on a subject
  • Includes textbooks, encyclopedias, websites, etc.

Identifying primary sources in the sciences

Typically, primary journal articles will have a common structure that includes:

  • Abstract 
  • Introduction 
  • Methods/Methods & Materials 
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion 

Secondary/review articles frequently contain many of the same sections but will not have a Methods or Methods & Materials section. If they do, they will discuss how the articles to be reviewed were found and selected.

Look for a Methods or Methods and Materials Section as a quick check to see if an article may be primary. Read this section to see if the researchers are talking about their new research.

Primary sources in the arts and humanities

To learn more about primary sources and how they are described in the arts and humanities discipline, please see this guide created by Waterloo's History Librarian

Grey literature

  • Unpublished materials
  • May include lab notebooks, blogs, pre-prints, reports from government agencies, conference presentations, etc.

Adapted from UTSC

The information on this page has been slightly adapted from the UTSC Guide on Finding Primary Sources