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  • Writer's pictureHalimat Issa, Women's health writer

Primary Source vs. Secondary Source (and why use primary source in health writing)

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Need credible sources? This post explains the key differences between primary and secondary sources in plain terms. Learn why you should use primary sources in health writing.

In this article:


You likely already know that health writing relies heavily on facts. Each penned word holds the power to shape your reader's opinions and influence their decision-making process.

This means that for every piece to be authentic, it must carry the weight of reliability and trust.

Primary sources offer direct expert opinions and evidence for a particular topic. Secondary sources, on the other hand, are curated, second-hand accounts that are usually obtained by interpreting the evidence from primary sources.

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According to a study, health consumers are more likely to regard information as credible if it was contributed by primary sources such as subject matter experts (SMEs) or medical professionals. 

Health articles influence health choices, and readers are more likely to make a sound decision based on what they read. 

Another study found that 53% of health blog readers were motivated to take preventative health measures, including self-checks and doctor consultations, based on the information they read.

This further shows the importance of citing credible sources, whether primary or secondary, when it comes to health writing.

What is a primary source?

A primary source provides an original first-hand account of a particular topic, usually interpreted by SMEs, professionals, or a piece of material from them.

For instance, a primary source used in health writing may include an interpretation of interviews and reports from medical experts, an interpretation of raw statistical data, or an original research work.

Where to find primary sources

Primary sources are typically culled on a first-hand basis from experts in a particular field. In health writing, they include:

  • Interviews with health professionals 

  • Primary research articles such as theses and dissertations

  • Academic journals

  • Government reports and websites 

  • Symposia and conference proceedings

  • Diaries, personal letters and correspondence

  • Autobiographies and memoirs

  • Podcasts

  • HARO

  • Qwoted

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What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources provide an interpretation and analysis of information from primary sources. They are curated by someone who did not experience a first-hand account of the events being researched.

Where to find secondary sources

With a myriad of primary sources, secondary sources are not so hard to come by, and they include:

  • Blog posts

  • Newspapers, newsletters, and magazine columns

  • Commentaries

  • Textbooks

  • Biographies 

  • Histories 

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Why we should use primary sources in health writing

There are many reasons why primary sources should take precedence over secondary sources in health writing, and some of them include:

  1. Authenticity: Insights from primary sources are direct and unaltered. This establishes a foundation of trust and reliability for health consumers. Furthermore, it shows the depth of research for the content. To show the authenticity of content, health writers should avoid plagiarism and must be meticulous in their approach to in-text citations and referencing.

  2. Evidence-based information: Health writers often get evidence-based data from experts. This allows writers to leverage the information provided to enable readers to make informed choices concerning their health.

  3. Recency of information: SMEs are constantly updating their knowledge in their area of expertise, and seeking their opinion means getting unfiltered, up-to-date facts from trusted experts in their respective fields.

  4. Practicality: Information from experts is usually based on real-life experiences in their field of expertise, which makes it practical for readers.

  5. SEO boost: Quoting primary sources for a health blog has been shown to enforce the authority of a website on Google. Insights from health experts can make SEO research thorough in turn enhancing user experience as well as helping businesses and companies rank higher for their niche.

It's a wrap!

In health writing, importance is placed on quoting credible primary and secondary sources, and rightly so. Prioritizing primary sources in health writing has shown many benefits, which ultimately makes for articles that enhance user experience while helping them make the best decisions for their health, as well as health businesses and companies that want to produce content that is reliable and trustworthy for their audience.

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