Biology Laboratory Research Paper (BIOL190L)

Biology 190 Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology - Fall 2021

Primary Sources in the Sciences

Primary sources are materials that are eyewitness accounts or as close to the original source as possible. They can contain both qualitative and quantitative data.

Qualitative data:

  • What people say
    • They are usually speeches, interviews, and conversations captured in videos, audio recordings, or transcribed into text.
  • What people write 
    • These include autobiographies, memoirs, personal journals, diaries, letters, emails, blogs, Twitter feeds, and more.
  • Images and Videos
  • Maps
  • Government Documents
  • Laws, Court Cases and Decisions, Treaties
  • Newspapers

Quantitative data:

  • Statistics and Data
  • Polls and Public Opinions

*Please note that a book is simply a format.  You can find both primary and secondary sources published in book form.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are interpretations and analyses based on or written about primary sources. For example, an autobiography is a primary source while a biography is a secondary source.

Typical secondary sources include:

  • Scholarly Journal Articles (Peer-Reviewed)
  • Magazines (Scholarly)
  • Reports
  • Handbooks
  • Documentaries
  • Historical Newspapers

*Please note that a book is simply a format.  You can find primary and secondary sources published in book form.

Special Considerations for Sources

Often secondary and primary sources are relative concepts. Typical secondary sources may be primary sources depending on the research topic.

  • Intellectual history topics.

For example, although scholarly journal articles are usually considered secondary sources, if one's topic is the history of human rights, then journal articles on human rights will be primary sources in this instance.  Similarly, research on the thinking of a scholar will include her published journal articles as primary sources.

  • Historical topics.

Magazine articles are secondary sources, but for someone researching the view of judicial punishment in the 1920s, magazines from that time period are primary sources.  Indeed, any older publication, such as those prior to the 20th century, is very often automatically considered a primary source.

  • Newspapers may be either primary or secondary.

Most articles in newspapers are secondary, but reporters may be considered as witnesses to an event.  Any topic on the media coverage of an event or phenomenon would treat newspapers as a primary source.  There are so many articles and types of articles in newspapers that they can often be considered both primary and secondary.