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EBM Process

Primary vs Secondary Sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify if you are using a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able to recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first-hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples


A primary source is a first-person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. This original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.

  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary or autobiography
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
  • First publication of a scientific study

A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting, and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.

  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review (book, music CD or art show)
  • Biography
  • Systematic Review or Meta-analysis
  • Practice Guidelines

A tertiary source is further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog

The Seven Parts of a Research Aticle

A primary research article from a journal has seven main parts:

  1. Title
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction (contains the topical review of the literature)
  4. Method (replicate research)
  5. Results
  6. Discussion or Conclusion
  7. References

 Ultimately the only way to determine if an article is primary is to read it!

Primary or Secondary ?

Identifying Credible Sources

Credible articles have certain characteristics...

Identify Peer-Reviewed Journals

look for the   referee shirt.