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Primary/Secondary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources offer an inside view of a particular event. They can be original records or objects created by participants and observers during the time the event occurred or shortly thereafter.

General Examples of Primary Sources

  • Original documents: autobiographies, diaries, e-mail, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photographs, raw research data, speeches, personal narratives, sources, memoirs, letters, dispatches, interviews, pamphlets, diaries, speeches, translations
  • Creative works: art, drama, films, music, novels, poetry
  • Relics or artifacts: buildings, clothing, DNA, furniture, jewelry, pottery

What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources are less easily defined than primary sources. Generally, they are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Bibliographies
  • Biographical works
  • Commentaries, criticisms
  • Dictionaries, Encyclopedias
  • Histories;
  • Journal articles (depending on the disciple can be primary)
  • Magazine and newspaper articles (this distinction varies by discipline)
  • Monographs, other than fiction and autobiograph
  • Textbooks (also considered tertiary)
  • Web site (also considered primary).


Primary Research refers to the process of going out and collecting data yourself.

You may collect data using:

  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Observations

Parts of this guide will help you with this process.


Last Updated: Jul 15, 2024 10:27 AM