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Physical Therapy: Types of Health Science Literature

What is a primary source?

A primary source in the health sciences is a document or record that reports on a study, experiment, trial or research project. Primary sources are usually written by the person(s) who did the research, conducted the study, or ran the experiment, and include hypothesis (Introduction), Methodology, Results and conclusion or Discussion.

Primary Sources include:

  • Pilot/prospective studies
  • Cohort studies
  • Case studies
  • Clinical trials and randomized clinical trials/RCTs
  • Descriptive/Qualitative Study

What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources compile, summarize, compare, and evaluate primary information and studies so as to draw conclusions on or present current state of knowledge in a discipline or subject. Secondary sources should include a bibliography which directs you back to the primary research reported in the article.

Secondary Sources include:

  • review articles like systematic reviews and meta-analysis
  • practice guidelines & standards
  • clinical care plans
  • patient education information
  • monographs

What is a tertiary source?

Tertiary sources consist of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to the principles and practices within a discipline. 

Tertiary sources include:

  • Textbooks
  • Medical and Health Science reference books