Primary and secondary literature in Health Sciences

Are you required to use original/primary research articles in your assignment rather than referencing secondary research articles that summarise research findings? Sometimes it can be tricky to identify which is which. Here’s some guidance:

A primary source = original research,

  • Someone has conducted an experiment.
  • They are written by the people who ran the experiment to communicate the methods they used and the results they found.
  • Primary literature provides the opportunity for others to duplicate the research.
  • Examples of primary sources include: research articles, clinical reports, case-control studies and case studies.

A secondary source = analysis or summary of other papers.

  • They are written by other scientists who have not conducted the experiment themselves, but are giving an overview,
  • They bring together several papers on a particular topic to identify patterns in research.
  • Examples of primary sources are: reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analyses, synopses and guidelines.

Have a go at identifying primary and secondary papers with this short quiz.

For more information on study designs here’s a good website from the The Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, based at Oxford University:

You may also like...