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Primary Sources in the Sciences

science primary sources, secondary sources, citation indexes, humanities versus sciences

Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources in the sciences provide the original findings, results, or data from research, studies, observations, and experiments that have been generated by a researcher. 

The most common primary sources in the sciences are research articles that are published in journals (periodicals). Research articles reflect the scientific method used when conducting research by following a standard format to report findings. This format makes research articles easy to identify as they should include an abstract which summarizes the experiment, states the purpose, and indicates research findings. These articles should also include an introduction, methods, results, and discussion/conclusion section. A reference list (bibliography) of previous, related research is provided at the end of the research article; the significance of each reference, in relation to the current research, is discussed in the text of the article. In the case of an experiment, an hypothesis is stated which is then tested. 

Primary sources in the Sciences: Published Sources

 journal articles

 containing research studies or scientific   experiments


 technical reports

 usually longer than an article, often published by a government department, and often identified by a series number (e.g. TR 109)


 conference papers (proceedings)

 research, studies, updates/advances originally presented at a conference


 theses & dissertations

 research/studies conducted in partial fulfillment of a graduate degree (Masters or PhD)



 research information on new products, inventions, or processes



Primary sources in the Sciences: Unpublished Sources

  • field notes
  • interviews
  • letters/correspondence
  • specimens (e.g. plants)
  • lab notebooks & diaries


When conducting a library search, students will find three main sources of scientific information: primary, secondary, and review articles which are a special type of secondary source.

Although primary sources include unpublished items, library collections usually contain only published works which are the materials most undergraduate students typically use for their research and studies. (Note: Library Archives and Special Collections are an exception in that they may contain unpublished items.)


You can search for primary sources in various databases, including specific science databases such as ScienceDirect, BioOne, and Web of Science. The VIU Library Research Guides can direct students to subject specific databases, containing numerous journal titles. Depending on your research needs, it is recommended that students restrict their searches to scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles as these publications provide original research that has been evaluated and assessed by experts in each field, before being accepted for publication. Furthermore, selecting this option will eliminate magazine and newspaper articles from your search.

Related Guide

Science & Technology: Guides

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