Skip to main content

BIOL 309 Genetics Class Guide

Distinguishing Primary and Secondary Science Sources

In the sciences primary and secondary sources refer to how close an article is to the research that is being described. For example, if the author completed the research study herself, then an article is a primary source. However, if the author is writing about research done by others, then it is a secondary source.

Popular articles (those written for the general public) are most often secondary sources. Scholarly and Peer-reviewed articles can be both primary and secondary.

Look for clues in the databases, such as the article type of "review article" (for a secondary article), or "original research" or "research article" for primary sources.

Search Tips

Once you find a database, here are some tips for searching it as efficiently as possible:

Look for ways to limit your results:

  • Unlike Google, you are not limited to just a keyword search. In most databases you can narrow down your results by subject area, type of material, or date published. Date published is especially important in an area like health/exercise science where information can become dated very quickly.
  • Explore the subject or thesaurus terms that are used by most databases. Since these are standardized, they allow you to find all the relevant information on a particular subject and weed out a lot of false hits.  This is especially helpful for databases pertaining to the sciences.
  • Remember to use Boolean Operators to help make your search more efficient:
    • AND will produce results that contain BOTH terms (e.g. birds AND bees)
    • OR generates results that contain EITHER term (e.g. dogs OR canines)
    • NOT results will include the first terms, but not the second (cats NOT musical)
  • Quotation marks will isolate that phrase: "natural selection" lists results containing only that specific phrase, but results for natural selection would contain natural AND selection somewhere, not necessarily side by side.

Relevant Databases