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Primary vs Secondary Sources: Get Started

This page defines and gives examples of primary and secondary sources. It explains how primary sources can be used for research and secondary sources are used in research. It also explains how a source can be both depending on the situation.

There are 3 types of sources

There are three types of resources used in research:

  • primary sources
  • secondary sources
  • finding tools

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event.

Some types of primary sources include:

  • Original documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • Creative Works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • Relics of Artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • Declaration of Independence.  - U.S. History
  • A journal article reporting new research or findings 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece
  • Legal Cases

What is a Secondary Source?

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.

Some types of seconday sources include:

  • Journal articles
  • Law reviews
  • Textbooks
  • magazine articles
  • histories
  • criticisms
  • commentaries
  • encyclopedias

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings
  • A history textbook
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

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