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What's a primary source?

Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.  Scholars analyze primary sources in order to answer research questions. Examples of primary sources vary by discipline.

Examples in the humanities:

  • a novel
  • a painting
  • a theatre performance

Examples in the social sciences:

  • a political, social, or economic theory
  • a dataset
  • the results of an experiment published in a peer-reviewed journal

Example in the sciences:

  • the results of an experiment published in a peer-reviewed journal

Primary Sources in Bioethics

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the bioethics field, you may find that you need to search for, analyze and interpret primary sources from humanistic, social scientific and scientific perspectives.  What constitutes a primary source is highly contextual and depends on how you are using the source. Consult with a librarian or your professor when in doubt!

Here are some types and examples of primary sources that bioethicists commonly use:

  • Datasets
  • Medical research reports
  • Court decisions
  • Personal narratives
  • Ethnographies
  • Philosophical texts/theories
  • Governmental documents (laws, regulations)
  • Sacred texts and other religious writings
  • Historical news and magazine articles


Primary Source Anthologies

Not sure where to start?  Try browsing through these anthologies of primary sources:

Data & Statistics

Governmental Documents

Newspaper Resources