Skip to main content
Michigan State University

Primary Sources in the Sciences: Home



Primary sources in the sciences are different than primary sources in the humanities or social sciences. This guide describes the characteristics of primary sources in the sciences, provides examples of primary sources in the sciences, and describes how to best find science primary sources at the MSU Libraries.

If you need additional help locating primary sources in the sciences, please Ask A Librarian.


Primary Sources in the Sciences....

  • Report original research, ideas, or scientific discoveries for the first time
  • Report results/findings/data from experiments or research studies
  • May also be referred to as primary research, primary articles, or research studies
  • DO NOT include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources
  • Are frequently found in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals
  • Should explain the research methodology used (randomized controlled trial, etc)
  • Frequently include methods, results, and discussion sections
  • Are factual, not interpretive


  • Research studies or scientific experiments
  • Papers and proceedings from scientific conferences or meetings
  • Dissertations and Theses
  • Technical Reports
  • Patents

Avoid Secondary Sources

Most literature in scientific databases will be primary resources. However make sure to avoid meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources. Examples of these secondary sources are:

  • Publications about the significance of research or experiments
  • Review of the results of several experiments or trials
  • Analysis of a clinical trial
  • Letters to the editor, editorials, perspectives, etc.

Finding Primary Sources in the Sciences

Listed below are resources at the MSU Libraries that will help you locate primary sources in the sciences. To find research studies or scientific experiments published in journals, you may want to search in one of the databases/indexes listed in this section. HINT: Many databases feature an advanced or limits section, which sometimes allow you to limit to publication type or research methodology (clinical trial, comparative study, etc).

  • Web of Science
    Web of Science indexes journal literature in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
  • PubMed
    PubMed indexes articles from biomedical and life sciences journals. PubMed contains over 18 million citations.
  • SciFinder Scholar
    SciFinder Scholar includes journal articles, book chapters, patents, conference proceedings, technical reports, dissertations, book reviews and biographical information.
  • CAB Abstracts (ISI)
    CAB covers the subject of agriculture in the broadest sense. It includes: agronomy, biotechnology, crop protection, dairy science, economics, environmental degradation and remediation, forestry, genetics, herbicides, irrigation, leisure, recreation and tourism, microbiology, nutrition, parasitology, rural development, veterinary medicine and much more. Journals, monographs, conferences, books, annual reports and other sources from more than one country are scanned regularly for inclusion in the database.
  • GeoRef
    GeoRef, produced by the American Geological Institute, indexes the world's literature in geology and the geosciences. Its over 1.7 million citations, many with abstracts, cover the geology of North America since 1785 and the geology of the rest of the world since 1933. It scans over 3,000 journals in 40 languages as well as books, maps, and reports. Most U.S. Geological Survey publications and many state geological surveys are indexed, as are U.S. and Canadian theses and dissertations.
  • Conference Papers Index
    Conference Papers provides citations to papers and poster sessions presented at major scientific meetings around the world.

Need help? Contact me!

Heidi Schroeder
Michigan State University Libraries
Website / Blog Page
  • Call MSU: (517) 355-1855
  • Visit:
  • MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.
Michigan State University