Q. How do I know if an article is a primary research article or a secondary source?
A primary research article will discuss an original, empirical research study conducted by the authors.
The purpose of this type of article is to provide readers with a detailed overview of how the study was conducted, what types of methods the authors used to measure their results, how the authors interpret the results, and recommendations based on those results as well ideas for further research in the area. A primary research article should include all of the following:
- A research question(s) or hypothesis.
- A "methods" or "methodology" section that describes how the study was conducted. Sometimes this section might go by a different name like "data collection" or "research design."
- A "results" section that discusses what the authors found out from their research.
- A "discussion" and/or "conclusion" section where the the authors acknowledge the limits of the study, discuss the significance of the results, and make recommendations for further research.
Features like charts, maps, and surveys are common in primary research articles. Look for word clues like sample size, investigation, experiment, control group, and model, which are commonly found in the abstracts of primary research articles. Primary research articles tend to be longer (10 or more pages) because of the amount of information included.
A secondary source can still be published in a peer reviewed journal, but it does not contain any original research. Some examples of secondary sources are:
- Literature Reviews - authors summarize and evaluate previous research that has been done on a topic.
- Review articles - authors form conclusions by analyzing and discussing multiple primary research studies. (These are often peer reviewed)
- Editorials and opinion pieces.
- Encyclopedia entries.
Watch the video below for more information on distinguishing primary research articles from review articles.