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Medicine: Academic sources

Guide to information resources and services for Medicine, including basic and clinical sciences.

What are primary sources?

Sources of information are often categorised as primary, secondary or tertiary depending on their relationship to the events described.

The characteristics of primary, secondary and tertiary sources will differ within different academic disciplines, notably between the sciences and the humanities.

Sources will be designated as primary sources due to their content regardless of where they are in the dissemination cycle, or whether they are available in their original format, in microfilm or electronic format, or formally published. 

Primary Sources

  • Report original research, ideas or scientific discoveries for the first time, or the results/findings/data from experiments or studies that the authors conducted themselves
  • Frequently include Methods, Results, and Discussion sections, and should explain the research methodology used
  • Are commonly found in academic journals and may be referred to as primary research, primary articles, journal articles, or research studies
  • They could also be papers from conferences, dissertations, meetings or laboratory notebook data, technical reports, statistical data, interviews, surveys, fieldwork, correspondence, or patents.

Secondary sources

  • Seek to add value to the information reported in the primary literature
  • Describe, interpret, analyse, evaluate or appraise the primary sources, the evidence provided or the significance of the research
  • They may be reviews, literature reviews, systematic reviews or meta-analyses
  • Could also be letters to the editor, editorials, commentaries, biographies, book chapters, treatises, or any index or bibliography used to locate primary sources

Tertiary sources

  • These consist of information which is a compilation of primary and secondary sources in a specific subject area
  • Materials in which the information from secondary sources has been condensed or put into a convenient, easy-to-read form
  • May be guidebooks, manuals, almanacs, indexes, fact books, chronologies, directories, encyclopedias, patient care sheets or point-of-care tools.

How to identify scholarly information sources

Click guide to view in a larger window.


What is peer review?

Peer reviewed articles are evaluated by experts before publication. These experts check that the article is of a high standard and makes a meaningful contribution to the field.

Take the quick guide to peer review for more information.

Is my source academic?

Click the image to view the video.

Further resources

Evaluating the reliability of sources (tutorial)

This tutorial will enable you to identify the key features of quality academic sources.

Time required: approximately 15 minutes.