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Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Biology: Primary vs Secondary Literature

Useful links and databases for research in Biology & interdisciplinary course work.

What are Primary and Secondary Literature?

Literature resources can be divided into two basic categories - "primary" and "secondary."

In scientific literature, a Primary Source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study and is the result of original scientific research or observation. Some types of primary sources include:

  • Scholarly journal articles: Articles reporting new and original research or findings written by the original researcher.

  • Original documents: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 

  • Creative works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 

  • Relics or artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings


A Secondary Source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

  • Textbooks

  • Magazine/journal articles: These are articles which interpret or review previous findings or present findings in way more accessible to the general public. They are not written by the original researcher. Examples would be Scientific American or Psychology Today.

  • Histories

  • Criticisms

  • Encyclopedias

Types of Academic Sources

There are three main types of sources used in academic research:

  • Primary

  • Secondary

  • Tertiary

Click on the image below to watch a brief tutorial describing the these types of resources.