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Primary Sources in the Sciences: Home


Primary sources in the sciences are different from 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).

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Heidi Schroeder
Michigan State University Libraries
Subjects: Science, General