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Research Methods for the Social Sciences

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources
Secondary Sources

Primary source material contains a first-hand account of an original study. The article presented is written by someone who actually conducted the study. Characteristics of a Primary Source;

  • the methodology used in the study is described
  • the data that was collected and used in the study is listed and explained
  • the findings of the study are given


Secondary source material contains the analysis or interpretation of a study, a group of studies, or concept. Characteristics of a Secondary source;

  • an article that contains a thorough literature review of other research done on a topic
  • an article or book that proposes a specific opinion or hypothesis of an author
  • a book, ebook, or textbook that attempts to summarize the field of literature on a specific topic

Keywords to search and look for when trying to identify if the content is Primary or Secondary Source Material;

Primary Secondary
  • Study
  • Method
  • Findings
  • Results
  • Background knowledge
  • Discussed
  • Brief description
  • Observation