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Nursing: Source Categories & Styles

What you'll find on this page

On this page, you'll learn:

  • what primary sources are and what they look like in different disciplines

  • where to find primary sources

  • how to use primary sources

  • additional tips to help you identify whether a source is primary


Also, Do not confuse EVIDENCE with the type of source. Primary and secondary sources are evidence.

What are primary sources?

A primary source in science is a document or record that reports on a study, experiment, trial, or research project. Primary sources are usually written (or Oral) by the person(s) who did the research, conducted the study, or ran the experiment, and include hypothesis, methodology, and results. 

Primary sources often look different depending on your discipline.

******* Systematic Reviews are both the highest level of evidence and can be both primary and secondary sources due to the authors creating new understanding by reviewing previous research.

For example:

In STEM & Other Medical fields Nursing
  • Articles describing the research design
  • Findings of original studies

Articles describing the research design

  • Pilot/prospective studies
  • Cohort studies
  • Survey research
  • Case studies
  • Clinical trials /randomized clinical trials/RCTs
  • Dissertations
  • Statistical data
  • Systematic Reviews, Integrated Reviews, Scoping Reviews*** 
  • Patents & blueprints

Findings of original studies:

  • Results of experiments
  • Lab notebooks
  • Field Research
  • Interviews/ Eyewitness accounts
  • Surveys
  • Implementation Study
  • Quality Improvement
  • Reports on original research
  • Historical and legal documents
  • Audio and video recordings
  • Speeches
  • Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroup
  • Art objects
  • Pieces of creative writing

Where to find primary sources

Remember: any source can be a primary source, depending on your research question/topic.

To find primary sources, you can:

  • Select the material type(s) you are looking for on the search results of many databases using filters
    material type selection in databases
  • Search for a material type (diary, speech, etc.) + your topic (World War II, bicycle, etc.) using the search box on a database.

How to use primary sources

When your professor asks you to use primary sources in your writing, you are being asked to quote, paraphrase, and incorporate them in the following ways:

Pro tips

1) A source which may be secondary or tertiary in another context (like an encyclopedia) could be used as a primary source, depending on the research topic. Take this book:

  • Writing a paper on Homer Simpson's origin story? Then this book is a tertiary source, because you'll use it to get background information.
  • Writing a paper about male-centrism in cartoon encyclopedias? Then this book is a primary source, because you'll analyze it as an example.

2) Primary sources can be scholarly/peer-reviewed… or not.

  • Scenario:  a student writing about civilian life during World War II uses a diary as a primary source. Diaries are not reviewed by other 'expert' diarists before publication, so they are not scholarly.
  • Scenario:  a student writing about debunked research uses an article published in a prestigious journal connecting autism to vaccines as a primary source. This journal peer-reviews all of its articles, so this source is scholarly (if incorrect in this case).