Answered By: Kathryn Devine
Last Updated: May 12, 2022     Views: 37

Generally, a primary source is empirical research, or statistics or data (such as those generated by government or the ONS). It is about “gathering data that has not been collected before” (University of Southampton, 2021).

Consider whether the authors of your source are carrying out their own direct (empirical) research or data collection, for example questionnaires, focus groups, etc. Primary sources can also be historic documents and records, legislation, case law, and creative works.

Words in the title or abstract of an article such as “literature review”, “systematic review”, or “meta-analysis” are indicative of secondary studies. Secondary research is about “collecting data which already exists” (University of Southampton, 2021). Secondary sources may bring together and analyse a body of primary research in the form of a literature review or meta-analysis, or be a comment on, or evaluation of, the primary research. Secondary sources also include historiography.  

If you are in any doubt about what constitutes primary or secondary research in the context of a specific assessment or module, please contact the module tutor.