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EXS Exercise Science Research

Primary vs. secondary research

A primary research article reports on a study conducted by the authors. It is almost always published in a peer-reviewed journal. This type of article:

  • Asks a research question or states a hypothesis
  • Identifies a research population
  • Describes a specific research method
  • Tests or measures something
  • Includes a section called "method" or "methodology." This may only appear in the article, not the abstract.
  • Includes a section called "results."

Words to look for as clues include: analysis, study, investigation, examination, experiment, numbers of people or objects analyzed, content analysis, or surveys.

To contrast, the following are NOT primary research articles (they are secondary sources):

  • Literature reviews*
  • Meta-Analyses/Review articles* (These are studies that arrive at conclusions based on research from many other studies.)
  • Editorials
  • Letters
  • Chapters in books
  • Encyclopedia articles
  • Speeches and interviews

* While literature reviews and meta-analyses are not primary research, they can be very helpful in your research. Look at the list of references at the end to discover more articles of interest.

Primary research articles (quantitative or qualitative) are written by professionals for professionals. They do not teach you about a topic the way a textbook does. A research article describes a specific research question, the process the researchers used to explore it, and their findings.

Here are some examples of research study articles:

da Fonseca, J. L., Magini, M., & de Freitas, T. H. (2009). Laboratory gait analysis in patients with low back pain before and after a Pilates intervention. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 18(2), 269–282.

Gladwell, V., Head, S., Haggar, M., & Beneke, R. (2006). Does a program of Pilates improve chronic non-specific low back pain? Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 15(4), 338–350.