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Environmental Science Research Guide: Primary And Secondary Literature

What is Primary and Secondary literature see Primary Sources

Primary Data: Data that has been generated by the researcher himself/herself, surveys, interviews, experiments, specially designed for understanding and solving the research problem at hand. Examples are Technical Reports, Conference Proceedings, Journal articles.

Primary Sources

Secondary Data: Using existing data generated by large government Institutions, healthcare facilities etc. as part of organizational record keeping. The data is then extracted from more varied data files. Example Review articles, Books.

Supplementary Data: A few years ago the Obama Administration judged that any research that is done using Federal Public funds should be available for free to the public. Moreover, Data Management Plans should be in place to store and preserve the data for almost eternity. These data sets are published as Supplementary Materials in the journal literature, and data sets can be downloaded and manipulated for research. 

NOTE: Even though the research is a Primary source, the supplemental files downloaded by others become a Secondary Source. Example:

If a published article has Supplementary Material, Supplemental Data, where can you find it?

It is also known as Supporting Documents. And it varies by Publisher of the Journal.. Here is a record from ACS.

Mol. Pharmaceutics 2023, 20, 5, 2341–2351   Supporting Info (1)»Supporting Information



 Pros and Cons for each. 

Comparison Chart

Meaning Primary data refers to the first hand data gathered by the researcher himself. Secondary data means data collected by someone else earlier.
Data Real time data Past data
Process Very involved Quick and easy
Source Surveys, observations, experiments, questionnaire, personal interview, etc. Government publications, websites, books, journal articles, internal records etc.
Cost effectiveness Expensive Economical
Collection time Long Short
Specific Always specific to the researcher's needs. May or may not be specific to the researcher's need.
Available in Crude form Refined form
Accuracy and Reliability More Relatively less


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