Primary sources

Primary sources: journals, conference papers and research reports

Primary sources contain information which is original, and can often be the most up-to-date information available. They are written or produced by people who were directly involved in the research or events being presented and described.

Journal articles

Journals (also called periodicals or serials) are published by commercial publishers or academic institutions monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or even just once a year. They are useful as they:

  • summarise recent research on a topic
  • are refereed or peer reviewed, this means that the papers will have been read by other experts in the same field before being accepted for publishing in a journal and are thus likely to be good quality
  • concentrate on particular subject areas
  • often contain information such as:
    • background and purpose of the work
    • description of the methods used
    • conclusions and discussions about significance
  • include contact details for the authors, which can be very helpful

Some, but not all journals, are available on the internet. Some electronic journals (or ejournals) just give you access to the table of contents (TOCs) and abstracts, whereas others give you access to the full text of the articles. Access depends on what your institution has paid for. At Glasgow Caledonian University we have access to a wide range of electronic and print journals. The best way to search our journal content is to use our Discover search. Select options for full text and peer reviewed content at the top left of the screen.

Conference papers

Papers from conferences organised by learned societies or associations (sometimes called symposia, workshops) are often published as 'Proceedings of ... conference'. They are published online or in book format. They are useful sources of information, particularly as they present research at an early stage, before journal articles have been published.

Research reports

Reports can be very useful sources of information about results of, or on the progress of research as they are published more quickly than journals and are often very detailed. They are produced by companies (like Pfizer UK), research groups based at universities and research organisations (such as National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit), and government agencies (for example BIS Department for Business Innovation and Skills). You may find that research carried out in one place will have been funded or commissioned by a particular organisation or agency. 
Reports will not necessarily be read by many others before being published and are not often refereed. Many are not published commercially and such material is called grey literature. It is less easy to get hold of research reports than journal and conference papers because they are not always indexed in databases.