Primary vs. Secondary Research Articles

In the sciences, primary (or empirical) research articles:

  • are original scientific reports of new research findings (Please note that an original scientific article does not include review articles, which summarize the research literature on a particular subject, or articles using meta-analyses, which analyze pre-published data.)
  • usually include the following sections: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, References
  • are usually peer-reviewed (examined by expert(s) in the field before publication). Please note that a peer-reviewed article is not the same as a review article, which summarizes the research literature on a particular subject

You may also choose to use some secondary sources (summaries or interpretations of original research) such as books (find these through the library catalog) or review articles (articles which organize and critically analyze the research of others on a topic). These secondary sources, particularly review articles, are often useful and easier-to-read summaries of research in an area. Additionally, you can use the listed references to find useful primary research articles.

Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

scholarly article anatomy

from NCSU Libraries' Anatomy of a Scholarly Article

Types of health studies

In the sciences, particularly the health sciences, there are a number of types of primary articles (the gold standard being randomized controlled trials) and secondary articles (the gold standard being systematic reviews and meta-analysis). The chart below summarizes their differences and the linked article gives more information.

health study types

Searching for Primary vs. Secondary Articles

primary or secondary article search PubMed article types

Some scholarly databases will allow you to specific what kind of scholarly literature you're looking for. However, be careful! Sometimes, depending on the database, the Review article type may mean book review instead of or as well as review article. You may also have to look under more or custom options to find these choices.