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Nursing: Source Categories & Styles

What you'll find on this page

On this page, you'll learn:

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

  • where to find secondary sources

  • how to use secondary sources

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

What are secondary sources?

Secondary sources are about primary sources and provide analysis, commentary, or discussion. Secondary sources list, summarize, compare, and evaluate primary information and studies so as to draw conclusions on or present the current state of knowledge in a discipline or subject.

Like primary sources, secondary sources may look different depending on your discipline.

Sources may include a bibliography/reference list which may direct you back to the primary research reported in the article. A secondary source is a summary or description of a research study written by someone other than the study investigator(s).  You can identify a secondary source by determining whether the author(s) of the article did not investigate (conduct) the research described in the article, and instead, is describing research done by others. 

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

For example:

In STEM & Other Medical fields Nursing
  • book reviews
  • Reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analysis****
  • systematic review articles
  • Scholarly books/ Monographs
  • Bibliography
  • survey articles
  • Practice guidelines & Standards
  • Clinical care notes (notes you find not notes you create)
  • Patient Education Information
  • quantitative meta-analysis articles
  • Government
  • Legal Information
  • Newsletters
  • Professional news sources
  • Entries in nursing or medical encyclopedias

Where to find secondary sources

Secondary sources can easily be found in the same way as primary sources. Library website, LibGuides, Databases.

How to use secondary sources

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

Pro tips

1. Identifying a secondary source is all about the context of your research topic.

  • This fun quiz from Ithaca College Library has some great examples of secondary sources in various contexts.

2. Check the source's references.

  • If a source you are using also cites your primary source, that's a clue that it could be a secondary source for your research.
    • For example, if your research topic is about masculine expectations in Kafka's Metamorphosis,  directly quoting Metamorphosis (your primary source) could be used as a secondary source. 
  • The references/works cited/bibliography of a source is also a great place to go to find additional sources on the same topic. Many databases now provide interactive reference lists which link you directly to those sources.