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CIED 500 - Research in Education: Primary Sources

Using the library for research for literature reviews and an action research plan.

Primary Sources: Research Papers and Reports

Primary Sources in Social Sciences

In the social sciences, primary sources are the data researchers use to come to their conclusions. These can be raw data:

  • the transcripts of interviews conducted,
  • the notes from ethnographic studies,
  • the written answers from a survey.

They can also be the results reported on in research papers. Here you are interested in the analysis that summarizes the raw data.

Thus, it is critical knowing

  • how the statistics were performed,
  • whether tests were appropriate,
  • how the researcher handled the qualitative data.
You want to make sure that the summary accurately reflects the raw data.

This is why your professor is generally more interested in the methods and results sections of papers, rather than the interpretation or conclusion sections. You need to determine how YOU would interpret the meaning of the study.

Review Articles vs Research Papers

Secondary Sources in the Social Sciences are review articles, encyclopedia and handbook articles, and books that summarize research. These articles can help you understand the meaning of research papers and the context of the studies. They can also lead you to important, seminal studies (the studies that everyone researching a particular topic read).

Review articles discuss several different articles, everything that the author feels is important to help you understand the topic. There are no methods or results sections. There are often charts listing studies and their very concise results.


Marshal, M. P., Dietz, L. J., Friedman, M. S., Stall, R., Smith, H. A., McGinley, J., . . . Brent, D. A. (2011). Suicidality and depression disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual youth: A meta-analytic review.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 115-123. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.02.005

Research articles include a short literature review, methods section, results section (a summary of the data), and the authors' interpretation and conclusion of the results.

sections in research articles


Gold, S. D., Feinstein, B. A., Skidmore, W. C., & Marx, B. P. (2011). Childhood physical abuse, internalized homophobia, and experiential avoidance among lesbians and gay men.  Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 3(1), 50-60. doi:10.1037/a0020487