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Primary and Secondary Sources of Information


Scientific literature is divided into two basic categories - "primary" and "secondary". Primary sources are original documents that are records of events as first described without interpretation or commentary. These are “raw” material in the sense that they have not been summarized or processed. In the humanities, primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event or time period. In the sciences, often primary literature refers to the first place a scientist publishes the results of scientific investigations.

Often primary sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Publications that report the results of original scientific research constitute the "primary" literature and include journal papers, conference papers, monographic series, technical reports, theses, dissertations, diaries, letters, ledgers, emails, photographs, statistics, court records, interviews, surveys, scientific research reports, weblogs.

Secondary sources are material that has taken a primary source and summarized it, analyzed it, combined it, rephrased it and interpreted it. It is at least one step removed from the event or phenomenon under review. The "primary" literature is eventually compacted into "secondary" sources which synthesize and condense what is known on specific topics. A secondary source may try to persuade or argue a position. Much of what you find as sources will be secondary.

These include reports, summaries, textbooks, speeches, articles, encyclopedias and dictionaries, reviews, monographs, treatises, handbooks, and manuals.

Information in the sciences can be found in a variety of formats. Depending upon the type of information you need, some formats will prove more useful than others.


Exercise 3. Scan the text and find the specific information to answer the questions.  

1. What is “raw” material when concerning sources of information?

2. What category of scientific literature can publications that report the results of original scientific research be referred to?

3. What is the main difference between the primary and secondary sources of information?

4. Can primary literature be transformed into secondary sources of information and vice versa?

5. What formats can information in the sciences be found in?


Exercise 4. Listen to the part of a lecture about information sources and  

a) complete the text with the missing words:

Looking in primary sources in academic topic can sometimes be …. Primary sources are … accounts of an event and are created …the event took place. They can also be created … at a later date by a … in those events. They are … documents and usually … or … other documents. They can be used to … claims or criticism or as … for theories and research.

Secondary sources are written by … and observers after the fact and … or analyze primary sources or events. They are at least … removed from what they are describing. They can get … info and understand the … of a topic and understand the … of events, data, etc.

b) answer the questions:

1. What can primary and secondary sources for a paper about the Placebo Effect be?

2. Why are information sources relative and what it depends on?

3. Why is it advisable to use both primary and secondary sources of information for an effective research paper?


Exercise 5. Study the chart from Figure 1 and suppose what "grey literature" is.  

Figure 1

Exercise 6. Compare your ideas with the description of the category of academic literature given below. Think of the question if dissertations can be considered as an example of grey literature? Why?

Grey literature is a body of materials that cannot be found easily through conventional channels such as publishers. It is non-conventional literature that does not include normal scientific journals, books or popular publications. Electronic and print formats are not published for commercial reasons. Usually it is not well catalogued and often difficult to locate. It contains new, revolutionary or untested ideas. It deals with data and information on focused/unique subjects, uncovers untapped ("lost") ideas, data, experiments, methodologies, designs, etc. Both primary sources can be included in this category.


Exercise 7. Fill in the table matching the examples with the type of the information source they refer to.
encyclopedia autobiography memoir summary conference paper report monograph dictionary technical report speech dissertation diary treatise letter manual ledger e-mail photograph statistics court record review interview handbook survey textbook scientific research report newspaper weblog


primary sources secondary sources "grey" literature


Exercise 8. Look through the review of academic formats and say if Miscellaneous Sources are the same as "grey" literature sources.

There is a review of the main formats so that you can begin to get an idea about which format may be the most helpful to your research task.

Date: 2016-04-22; view: 1028

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