Primary Source Documents

Primary source documents are original materials, such as an original study or research project. They are from the event or time period involved and provide an account of "how it was" without analysis, commentary, editing, or interpretation. A primary source should answer the following:

Who did the study, report, or research? (individuals, organizations, etc.)
Who or what was studied?
What questions did the author ask? (purpose)
What did the author do to answer the question? (method)
What was the answer to the author's questions? (results, conclusion)

TIP: To find primary sources in databases and on the Web, search your topic(s) and other relevant terms.

your topic and (research OR study) AND university
your topic AND "focus of the study"
your topic AND "purpose of this study"
your concept 1 AND your concept 2 and (study or report)
women AND exercise AND motivation AND (study or report)

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources-- articles, web pages, interviews, statistical data, etc.-- are accounts written after the fact and interpret primary sources. A secondary source may be a discussion of or commentary on primary source events with hindsight. They may explain, report, review, or evaluate primary source research or events.


  • Be alert as you begin your research. Primary sources such as studies and reports, are often referred to in journal articles, on association Web pages, in fact sheets, and more.
  • As you review resources such as articles, documents, and web pages, look for references to "studies," "research," "surveys" or similar terms, then use the information available to search for the primary source.
  • You may need to search for the primary source using the researcher name(s), the name of the study, the place where the study or research was conducted, and/or some of the statistical outcome data. If a place of publication is identified, try to find that.
  • If the research/study/report was published in a journal, search the opens new windowJournal Finder+ for the journal title. Once you locate the journal, select the volume and dates or search all issues when you do not have a date or volume.