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.
Michigan State University

Nursing Resources: Primary and Secondary Sources in Nursing

This research guide provides an overview of Nursing Resources at the MSU Libraries.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source in science is a document or record that reports on a study, experiment, trial or research project. Primary sources are usually written by the person(s) who did the research, conducted the study, or ran the experiment, and include hypothesis, methodology, and results. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources.

Primary Sources include:

  • Pilot/prospective studies
  • Cohort studies
  • Survey research
  • Case studies
  • Lab notebooks
  • Clinical trials and randomized clinical trials/RCTs
  • Dissertations

Finding Primary Sources

For medical and nursing databases, you can offer narrow to "publication type," including clinical trial, or randomized control trial, in order to locate primary source materials. 

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources list, summarize, compare, and evaluate primary information and studies so as to draw conclusions on or present current state of knowledge in a discipline or subject. Sources may include a bibliography which may direct you back to the primary research reported in the article. A secondary source is a summary or description of a research study written by someone other than the study investigator(s).  You can identify a secondary source by determining whether the author(s) of the article did not investigate (conduct) the research described in the article, and instead, is describing research done by others.

Secondary Sources include:

  • reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analysis
  • newsletters and professional news sources
  • practice guidelines & standards
  • clinical care notes
  • patient education Information
  • government & legal Information
  • monographs
  • entries in nursing or medical encyclopedias

Finding Secondary Sources

Michigan State University