Primary vs. Secondary Sources: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources.

Primary sources are materials that are eyewitness accounts or as close to the original source as possible.

Qualitative data:

  • What people say. They are usually Speeches , Interviews and Conversations, and they may be captured in Videos, Audio Recordings, or transcribed into text.
  • What people write.  These include Autobiographies, Memoirs, Personal Journals and Diaries, Letters, Emails, Blogs, Twitter Feeds and other forms of Social Media.
  • Images and Videos.
  • Government Documents-- U.S . and rest of the world.
  • Laws, Court Cases and Decisions, Treaties.
  • Newspapers.

Quantitative data:

  • Statistics and Data .
  • Polls and Public Opinions .

Please note that a book is simply a format.  You can find both primary and secondary sources published in book form.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are interpretations and analyses based on primary sources.

For example, an autobiography is a primary source while a biography is a secondary source.

Typical secondary sources include:

  • Scholarly Journal Articles.  Use these and books exclusively for writing Literature Reviews.
  • Encyclopedias.
  • Dictionaries.
  • Documentaries.

Please note that a book is simply a format.  You can find primary and secondary sources published in book form.

When Secondary Sources Become Primary Sources

Often secondary and primary sources are relative concepts.  Typical secondary sources may be primary sources depending on the research topic.

  • Intellectual history topics. For example, although scholarly journal articles are usually considered secondary sources, if one's topic is the history of human rights, then journal articles on human rights will be primary sources in this instance.  Similarly, research on the thinking of a scholar will include her published journal articles as primary sources.  
  • Historical topics. Magazine articles are secondary sources, but for someone researching the view of judicial punishment in the 1920s, magazines from that time period are primary sources.  Indeed, any older publication, such as those prior to the 20th century, is very often automatically considered a primary source.  
  • Newspapers may be either primary or secondary. Most articles in newspapers are secondary, but reporters may be considered as witnesses to an event.  Any topic on the media coverage of an event or phenomenon would treat newspapers as a primary source.  There are so many articles and types of articles in newspapers that newspapers can often be considered either primary or secondary.
  • Last Updated: Aug 11, 2023 3:44 PM
  • URL: https://subjectguides.library.american.edu/primary

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Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources in Research

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Chris Velasco

Julia mccoy.

examples of primary and secondary sources

Imagine you’re a detective, piecing together clues from a mysterious event. Your leads? These are examples of primary and secondary sources .

In one hand, you hold an original letter penned by the suspect — that’s your primary source. It offers first-hand insights but also bears the author’s biases.

Then you have a newspaper article about the event – this is your secondary source. While it interprets information for you, it may not present every perspective.

Understanding these differences is key to effective research and writing.

This guide will help you decipher between these two types of sources, using practical examples along with tips on when and how best to use them in writing.

Table of Contents:

Primary sources vs. secondary sources, diaries and personal journals, letters and correspondence, official documents, original research reports, oral history interviews, photographs, creative works, autobiographies, eyewitness accounts, a range of secondary sources, the newspaper dilemma, books about events, academic critiques, documentary films, scholarly articles, a direct connection to the past, unfiltered, original content, drawing personal connections, promotes authenticity, fosters critical thinking, rewards curiosity with authenticity, serves multiple purposes in research, depth and diversity, provides context, evidence and support, wide range of sources, critical analysis, avoiding plagiarism, cross-referencing, legal and ethical considerations, documentaries, reviews and essays, newspaper articles, identify your research question or topic, locate relevant primary sources, evaluate authenticity and reliability, contextualize your sources, extract relevant information, analyze and interpret, integrate primary sources seamlessly, use quotations sparingly, create a bibliography or works cited page, provide proper attribution, cite properly, balance with secondary sources, locate relevant secondary sources, evaluate the quality of secondary sources, read and summarize, analyze and synthesize, maintain a critical stance, provide context and analysis, avoid plagiarism.

If you’re investigating an unfamiliar subject or doing research, it’s essential to use both primary and secondary sources. But what’s the difference? And why does it matter?

A primary source, to start with, gives first-hand information about an event, person, object, or work of art. It is typically created during the time under study by those who experienced the events being documented.

Primary sources include diaries recounting personal experiences in war zones or recordings of live concerts — raw data that hasn’t been processed yet.

Meanwhile, secondary sources provide interpretations and analyses based on primary sources. They are one step removed from these original accounts.

An example would be a biography about Beethoven which uses his letters (primary source) as references for insights into his life and work.

In essence, if we were detectives investigating a case, our primary source would be direct evidence like DNA samples, while secondary sources might include crime scene analysis reports. Both are vital but serve different purposes.

While this might seem straightforward at first glance, using them effectively requires skillful balance and understanding.

is biography an example of a secondary source

Examples of primary and secondary sources

Primary Source Examples

If you’re delving into research, primary sources are your first stop. They offer an unfiltered look at the subject matter, be it historical events or scientific discoveries. Here’s a glimpse of some types of primary sources.

A person’s intimate thoughts about their experiences can provide unparalleled insights.

For example, Anne Frank’s diary is a primary source documenting her life in hiding during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

The National Archives Catalog is filled with these types of firsthand accounts from different eras.

Personal letters, emails, or postcards exchanged between individuals can provide insight into historical events or personal relationships.

The words straight from the horse’s mouth — speeches by politicians or interviews with key figures — give us direct access to their views and opinions on matters they were part of.

Transcripts or recordings of speeches given by famous individuals are primary sources for understanding their ideas and influence.

Government documents, such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, passports, and treaties, are primary sources. 

For instance, the U.S. Declaration of Independence is an official document.

PubMed Central (PMC) houses millions of full-text biomedical literature articles, which are excellent examples of original research reports in medicine and life sciences.

Recorded interviews with individuals who lived through particular events or periods serve as primary sources. These can include eyewitness accounts.

Physical objects like clothing, tools, weapons, and archaeological findings are primary sources when studying cultures or historical periods.

Original photographs taken during a specific period can be primary sources. For example, photographs from the American Civil Rights Movement are primary sources that capture historical moments.

Poems, plays, novels, music pieces – these creative works reflect the author’s own imagination but also often draw upon their real-life experiences, making them valuable as primary sources, too.

Personal autobiographies and memoirs provide firsthand accounts of a person’s life and experiences.

In a digital age where everyone has a smartphone camera ready to capture happenings around them, live events or videos posted online serve as eyewitness accounts that are invaluable when investigating contemporary issues.

Now we’ve looked at various forms of primary sources, let me share an example of how an author might use primary sources to write a book on 20th-century pop culture. 

Imagine our author is writing a book about The Beatles. They might use transcripts from John Lennon’s interviews as a primary source. This would allow them to capture Lennon’s perspective on the band’s journey, their creative process, and what they stood for. These transcripts would be more than just information, but rather a peek into John’s mind during those times — raw, unfiltered insights that no secondary source could provide with such authenticity. 

So when you’re embarking on your next research project or simply want to learn more about a particular topic, start by looking at the primary sources available. They’re not just resources; they’re time capsules giving us an undiluted view of past events and people’s experiences.

Secondary Source Examples

Understanding secondary sources is essential for any research. Let’s use a classic scenario as an example: the tale of Little Red Riding Hood.

If you read the original Grimm Brothers’ story, that would be a primary source. But if you picked up a book discussing themes in fairy tales, that would be considered a secondary source.

Different fields have their own unique types of secondary sources. For instance:

  • In history and literature studies, books providing analysis or interpretation are common secondary sources.
  • In science and medicine, review articles summarizing multiple primary studies fall into this category.
  • In law and political sciences, legal commentaries that offer interpretations of statutes or cases serve as examples of secondary resources.

Sometimes classifying documents can get tricky. Take newspapers, for example — they might seem like primary materials because they’re published immediately after events occur. But journalists usually aren’t direct witnesses to every event they cover; instead, they gather information from others.

Newspaper and online news articles that provide information and analysis of current events are considered secondary sources.

We often think all books are prime examples of secondary sources since most authors don’t directly experience what they’re writing about — especially when we talk about historical or scientific topics.

For instance, a history book discussing the causes of World War I is a secondary source.

Biographies, dictionaries , encyclopedias , and textbooks also count as secondary sources since they’re based on other original documents or firsthand accounts.

A critique of a novel, a movie review, or an article analyzing a research study are more examples of secondary sources. They provide analysis but aren’t the primary material themselves. Next time you read your favorite critic’s take on that latest blockbuster film, remember it’s another instance of a secondary source.

While they may include primary source footage, documentary films typically present an edited and interpreted view of historical events or issues.

Peer-reviewed academic journals that summarize, critique, or build upon existing research are secondary sources. Researchers use these to stay up-to-date with current scholarship.

A scholarly article, also known as a research or academic article, is a publication written by experts in a particular field. Journal articles typically present original research findings or analyses from studies conducted by the authors themselves.

In contrast to raw data collected for scientific experiments (which are primary sources), scholarly journal articles serve to interpret this information.

Here’s how you can easily identify examples of primary and secondary sources :

is biography an example of a secondary source

Does grammar matter when you’re citing sources? Learn more about what is grammar and why it matters  to your writing.

Benefits of Using Primary Sources

If you’ve ever had a burning question and decided to dig deeper for the answer, then you have likely encountered primary sources. But what makes these resources so valuable?

Primary sources offer a first-hand account or direct evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. They are usually created by witnesses who experienced the events themselves. This provides an unparalleled perspective on historical events that secondary sources simply can’t match.

Primary sources allow writers to dig into the heart of events. They offer unfiltered access to information from its origin point — like reading an original letter by Abraham Lincoln , for instance. This rawness gives readers insight into the context that secondary sources may overlook.

primary source - abraham lincoln correspondence

An original letter written by Abraham Lincoln is considered a primary source .

A personal diary entry from World War II has more emotional impact than a textbook summarizing those years does. Primary data helps establish deeper connections between past experiences and current realities because they engage us on a more personal, emotional level.

Another advantage is credibility: when writers base their claims on direct evidence instead of relying on interpretations made by other authors through secondary source material, this makes them appear more authentic and reliable.

Using primary sources encourages critical thinking skills. It requires readers to analyze information from multiple viewpoints, interpret meanings, and make connections with other knowledge they possess. It essentially turns them into mini-historians.

In contrast to textbooks or summarized articles, primary sources present raw data as it was initially recorded — be it letters from soldiers during the American Civil War, photographs capturing key moments from the Great Depression, or audio recordings of Martin Luther King’s famous speeches. Their authenticity sparks curiosity while offering rich detail.

Beyond just providing factual details about an event, primary documents give insight into how people thought and felt at that time — helping researchers understand the cultural context better than any secondary source could do.

Remember: using such powerful tools responsibly is crucial; we must always approach them with an open mind, acknowledging their limitations and biases. But when used effectively, primary sources can be a treasure trove of knowledge that opens doors to new understanding and sparks deeper connections with the past.

Benefits of Using Secondary Sources

There are many advantages of citing secondary sources in your writing.

Secondary sources give your writing depth. They help you present a more rounded view by incorporating different perspectives on the topic. You can also get insights from experts, which add credibility to your arguments.

Some topics require a wide range of data or historical context that may not be feasible to collect firsthand. Secondary sources often provide this breadth of coverage.

Secondary sources can provide valuable context and background information on a topic. This helps your readers better understand the subject matter, especially if it’s complex or unfamiliar to them.

The use of secondary sources allows you to back up claims or ideas with evidence. This is especially useful when dealing with controversial subjects that require support for clarity and persuasiveness.

Well-established secondary sources such as peer-reviewed articles, books, and reputable websites often have a higher level of credibility compared to personal anecdotes or unsupported claims. This can enhance the reliability of your writing.

lincoln biography - secondary source

A biography — such as a book about Lincoln’s life — is a good example of a secondary source.

You can also use secondary sources to support and strengthen your arguments. By citing expert opinions, statistics, or relevant studies, you add weight to your claims and make your writing more persuasive.

Secondary sources encompass various formats such as academic journals, books, essays, documentaries, and news articles — each one offering a unique angle on a subject matter. This diversity enables you to draw information from different mediums to enrich your writing and provide readers with an engaging mix that keeps them hooked while learning.

Conducting primary research, such as surveys or interviews, can be time-consuming. Secondary sources allow you to access data and information that others have already gathered, saving you time and resources.

By cutting down long hours spent on data collection and interpretation, you can focus more on presenting compelling narratives in your writing.

Secondary sources often undergo rigorous review and scrutiny, which means they have been evaluated for their quality and validity. This allows you to engage in critical analysis and evaluation of the information you’re using.

Including expert commentary via secondary sources lets readers see various interpretations or criticisms about the topic at hand, making them think critically too.

Sometimes primary resources may leave gaps; there might be missing information or unexplained events. Secondary sources fill in these blanks and provide a fuller understanding.

Proper in-text citations of secondary sources serve as plagiarism checkers. By giving credit to the original authors of your data, you demonstrate academic integrity.

Secondary sources can lead you to other relevant sources. When you’re reading one secondary source, you may discover citations or references to additional materials that deepen your understanding of the subject.

In some cases, using secondary sources can help you navigate legal and ethical considerations, especially when dealing with sensitive topics or proprietary information.

However, it’s important to use secondary sources judiciously. Always evaluate the quality and reliability of the sources you choose, and be aware of potential biases.

Remember: a good mix of primary and secondary sources makes for well-rounded, compelling content. Balance secondary sources with primary research when appropriate, as primary sources can offer unique insights and original data that secondary sources may lack.

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources in Different Contexts

The categorization of a source as primary or secondary can sometimes depend on the context of its use. For instance, a personal letter might be a primary source for a historian studying a specific individual but a secondary source for someone researching the historical context of the time. The distinction is not always rigid and can vary depending on the research question and purpose.

A secondary source can become a primary source based on your research question. If the individual, context, or method that created the source is the primary focus of your research, it becomes a primary source.

Here are examples of sources that can be primary or secondary.

If you are researching the causes of World War II, a recent documentary about it would be considered as a secondary source. However, if your focus shifts to filmmaking techniques used in historical documentaries instead, that same documentary becomes a primary source.

Another example involves literary studies. If your paper revolves around the work of Virginia Woolf, then any magazine review critiquing her work is categorized as a secondary resource. But suppose you’re studying critical reception towards her works; in that case, the review transforms into a primary resource.

A newspaper article discussing new economic policy falls under secondary resources when analyzing government policies. However, if we analyze how media covers economic issues, the same article becomes a primary resource.

As you can see, context is everything when it comes to classifying sources as primary or secondary. It all boils down to your research question and what you are trying to investigate.

is biography an example of a secondary source

When to use primary sources and secondary sources

How to Use Primary Sources in Writing

The use of primary sources can elevate your writing, giving it a level of authenticity and depth that secondary sources might not be able to provide. When you directly quote or reference firsthand documents, interviews, experiments, or original artworks, you are making sure your work is rooted in reality.

Here are a few tips on how to effectively use primary sources.

Before diving into primary sources, clearly define your research question or topic. What specific aspect are you investigating, and what information are you seeking?

Determine where and how to find primary sources related to your topic. These sources can include letters, diaries, photographs, official documents, interview transcripts, artifacts, and more.

  • Libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and digital repositories are common places to find primary sources. 
  • Online databases and collections can also be valuable resources.

Assess the authenticity and reliability of your chosen primary sources. Consider the source’s origin, creator, date, and purpose. Ensure that the source is credible and relevant to your research.

Understand the historical or cultural context in which the primary sources were created. This background knowledge will help you interpret and analyze the sources accurately.

Extract the pertinent information or data from your primary sources. This may involve transcribing handwritten documents, summarizing interviews, or digitizing materials as needed.

Analyze the primary sources critically. Look for patterns, themes, contradictions, or significant details within the sources. Consider the biases or perspectives of the creators.

Connect the information from your primary sources to your research papers or thesis statement. How does each source contribute to your understanding of the topic?

Incorporate primary sources into your writing smoothly. Avoid merely dropping them into your text without explanation. Provide context and analysis to help your readers understand their relevance.

Use direct quotations from primary sources sparingly. It’s often more effective to paraphrase or summarize the content of the source in your own words, with appropriate citations.

Include a bibliography or works cited page at the end of your writing to list all the primary sources you used. Follow guidelines for appropriate citation formats.

Acknowledge the sources of your primary materials and give credit to their creators or owners. This demonstrates academic integrity and respects intellectual property rights.

When citing sources in your writing, follow the appropriate citation style. Popular citation styles include APA style, MLA style, or CMOS style. Include all necessary information, such as the source’s title, creator, date, and location.

Provide context within your text to explain the significance of the primary source and how it supports your argument or narrative.

is biography an example of a secondary source

Always check with your editor, teacher, or professor about what  citation style  to use

While primary sources provide valuable firsthand information, balance them with secondary sources to provide context, analysis, and expert opinions that support and complement your argument.

Remember that using primary sources effectively requires careful research, analysis, and citation. When done well, they can make your writing more compelling, original, and authoritative.

How to Use Secondary Sources in Writing

When it comes to writing, secondary sources are essential for adding depth and credibility. They offer an interpretation or analysis of primary source data and give your work depth and credibility. But how can you effectively use these resources?

Identify secondary sources that are relevant to your research. These can include books, scholarly articles, reports, reviews, and reputable websites. 

Use academic databases, library catalogs, and search engines to find these sources.

Assess the credibility and reliability of your chosen secondary sources. Consider the author’s qualifications, the publication source, peer-review status (for academic articles), and the date of publication. 

Aim to include sources from respected and authoritative authors or institutions.

Always cross-reference different secondary sources to avoid bias or misinterpretation.

Carefully read the secondary sources and summarize their main points, arguments, evidence, and conclusions. Note any key quotes or data that you may want to reference in your writing.

Analyze the secondary sources critically. Evaluate the author’s methodology, evidence, and arguments. Consider any biases or limitations in the source.

Synthesize the information from multiple secondary sources to identify common themes, conflicting viewpoints, or gaps in the existing literature. This will help you form a well-rounded understanding of your topic.

While secondary sources provide valuable insights, maintain a critical stance and be prepared to engage with differing viewpoints or critiques of the sources you reference.

When introducing secondary sources, provide context for your readers. Explain the significance of each source and how it relates to your research question or thesis.

Offer critical analysis of the secondary sources you reference. Discuss their strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to the overall understanding of your topic.

Properly attribute all ideas, information, and quotations from secondary sources. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, so be sure to use quotation marks and cite sources accurately.

Use citations to attribute information, ideas, or quotes to the original sources.

Choose an appropriate citation style (e.g., APA, MLA, Chicago) to cite secondary sources in your writing.

Secondary sources can enhance the depth and credibility of your writing, as they provide context, analysis, and expert perspectives.

Always remember: they serve primarily as interpretive guides rather than factual accounts themselves.

These examples of primary and secondary sources are your detective tools in research. They help you piece together the full story.

Primary sources give you raw, first-hand data but may come with their author’s biases.

Secondary sources offer interpretation but may not cover all perspectives.

In writing or research, both have their place and benefits. The key is knowing when to use each for maximum impact.

To become a master researcher or writer, practice using these resources effectively — just like any skilled detective would do!

Written by Chris Velasco

is biography an example of a secondary source

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Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

  • Source Types
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tertiary Sources
  • Examples by Discipline

What are secondary sources?

Secondary sources depend upon primary sources. Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. The important thing to keep in mind when trying to decide if a source is primary or secondary is whether or not the author did the thing they are reporting on. If they did, it is a primary source; if they did not, it is a secondary source.

What is the role of secondary sources in research?

Secondary sources represent the scholarly conversation that has taken place, or is currently taking place, on a given topic. Thus, it is imperative that researchers acquire a comprehensive knowledge of the secondary literature on their topic to be able to then engage with it and offer their own perspective through their writing. Scholars show their deep knowledge of their topic by demonstrating in their writing their awareness of secondary literature. Research that does not include substantial references to both primary and secondary sources is not likely to be authoritative or reliable. For that reason, looking at the listed references in a piece of research can help you determine its value.

What are some examples of secondary sources?

Like primary sources, secondary sources can be lots of different kinds of resources depending on discipline and application. Secondary sources can be:

  • Journal articles
  • Monographs (books written on a single subject)
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Book or movie reviews 

In the sciences, secondary sources tend to be things like literature reviews (synthesized descriptions of previous scholarship on a topic), systematic reviews (overviews of primary sources on a topic), or meta analyses (studies in which conclusions are drawn from consideration of systematic reviews).

In the humanities, secondary sources tend to be journal articles that discuss or evaluate someone else's research, monographs, or reviews. 

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  • Last Updated: Aug 24, 2023 1:08 PM
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2.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

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Another information category is called publication mode and has to do with whether the information is:

  • Firsthand information (information in its original form, not translated or published in another form).
  • Secondhand information (a restatement, analysis, or interpretation of original information).
  • Thirdhand information (a summary or repackaging of original information, often based on secondary information that has been published).

The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources . Here are examples to illustrate the first- handedness, second-handedness, and third-handedness of information:

When you make distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, you are relating the information itself to the context in which it was created. Understanding that relationship is an important skill that you’ll need in college, as well as in the workplace. Noting the relationship between creation and context helps us understand the “big picture” in which information operates and helps us figure out which information we can depend on. That’s a big part of thinking critically, a major benefit of actually becoming an educated person.

As a reminder, recall one of the frames of the Framework for Information Literacy is Authority is Constructed and Contextual . Information does not occur in a vacuum, but within a context that impacts its meaning. Part of that context will be how you as an information consumer will process the different facets in which that information exists. So, with this in mind, recognize that primary sources as defined below are not cut and dried, nor black or white. For example, to a historian, an image or a representation of a piece of sculpture might be considered a primary source for the purposes of historical analysis; however, to a sculpture or an archaeologist, anything short of the physical piece of sculpture itself would not be considered a primary source. So, in this case, the “context” to consider is how the source of information itself is perceived by a particular discipline (history vs. sculpture or archaeology). More on this below when we consider the “format” of a source.

Primary Sources – Because it is in its original form, the information in primary sources has reached us from its creators without going through any filter. We get it firsthand. Here are some examples that are often used as primary sources:

  • Any literary work, including novels, plays, and poems.
  • Breaking news (first formal documentation of event–remember the Information Cycle).
  • Advertisements.
  • Music and dance performances.
  • Eyewitness accounts, including photographs and recorded interviews.
  • Blog entries that are autobiographical.
  • Scholarly blogs that provide data or are highly theoretical, even though they contain no autobiography.
  • Artifacts such as tools, clothing, or other objects.
  • Original documents such as tax returns, marriage licenses, and transcripts of trials.
  • Websites, although many are secondary.
  • Correspondence, including email.
  • Records of organizations and government agencies.
  • Journal articles that report original research for the first time (at least the parts about the new research, plus their data).

Secondary Source – These sources are sources about the sources, such as analysis or interpretation of the original information, the primary source. Thus, the information comes to us secondhand, or through at least one filter. Here are some examples that are often used as secondary sources:

  • Nonfiction books and magazine articles except autobiography.
  • An article or website that critiques a novel, play, painting, or piece of music.
  • An article or web site that synthesizes expert opinion and several eyewitness accounts for a new understanding of an event.
  • The literature review portion of a scholarly journal article.

Tertiary Source – These sources further repackage the original information because they index, condense, or summarize the original.

Typically, by the time tertiary sources are developed, there have been many secondary sources prepared on their subjects, and you can think of tertiary sources as information that comes to us “third-hand,” that is, pre -processed. Tertiary sources are usually publications that you are not intended to read from cover to cover but to dip in and out of for the information you need. You can think of them as a good place for background information to start your research but a bad place to end up. Here are some examples that are often used as tertiary sources, which are also considered “reference sources” in the library world:

  • Dictionaries.
  • Guide books, like the MLA Handbook
  • Survey articles.
  • Bibliographies.
  • Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia.
  • Most textbooks, including the one you are now reading.

Tertiary sources are usually not acceptable as cited sources in college research projects because they are so far removed from firsthand information. That’s why most professors don’t want you to use Wikipedia as a citable source: the information in Wikipedia is far from original information. Other people have considered it, decided what they think about it, rearranged it, and summarized it–all of which is actually what your professors want you , not another author, to do with information in your research projects.

The Details Are Tricky — A few things about primary or secondary sources might surprise you:

  • Sources have the potential of becoming primary rather than always exist as primary sources.

It’s easy to think that it is the format of primary sources that makes them primary. But that’s not all that matters. When you see lists like the one above of sources that are often used as primary sources, it’s wise to remember that the ones listed are not automatically already primary sources. Firsthand sources get that designation only when researchers actually find their information relevant and use it.

For instance: Here is an illustration of the frame, Authority is Constructed and Contextual. Records that could be relevant to those studying government are created every day by federal, state, county, and city governments as they operate. But until the raw data are actually used by a researcher, they cannot be considered primary sources. How this data is used is what gives these sources the designation, and authority, as primary sources.

Another example that references the frame, Authority is Constructed and Contextual : A diary about his flying missions kept by an American helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War is not a primary source until, say, a researcher uses it in her study of how the war was carried out. But it will never be a primary source for a researcher studying the U.S. public’s reaction to the war because it does not contain information relevant to that study.

  • Primary sources, even eyewitness accounts, are not necessarily accurate. Their accuracy has to be evaluated, just like that of all sources.
  • Something that is usually considered a secondary source can be considered a primary source, depending on the research project and the context in which something is used .

Here is another example where the context of the use of the source dictates whether or not the source is primary or secondary. For instance, movie reviews are usually considered secondary sources. But if your research project is about the effect movie reviews have on ticket sales, the movie reviews you study would become primary sources.

  • Deciding whether to consider a journal article a primary or a secondary source can be complicated for at least two reasons.

First, scholarly journal articles that report new research for the first time are usually based on data. So some disciplines consider the data to be the primary source, and the journal article that describes and analyzes them is considered a secondary source.

However, particularly in the sciences, the original researcher might find it difficult or impossible (he or she might not be allowed) to share the data. So sometimes you have nothing more firsthand than the journal article, which argues for calling it the relevant primary source because it’s the closest thing that exists to the data.

Second, even scholarly journal articles that announce new research for the first time usually contain more than data. They also typically contain secondary source elements, such as a literature review, bibliography, and sections on data analysis and interpretation. So they can actually be a mix of primary and secondary elements. Even so, in some disciplines, a journal article that announces new research findings for the first time is considered to be, as a whole, a primary source for the researchers using it.

ACTIVITY: Under What Circumstances?

Instructions: Look at each of the sources listed below and think of circumstances under which each could become a primary source. (There are probably many potential circumstances for each.) So just imagine you are a researcher with projects that would make each item firsthand information that is relevant to your work. What kind of project would make each of the following sources relevant firsthand information? Our answers are at the bottom of the page, but remember that there are many more–including the ones you think of that we didn’t!

  • Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s.
  • Poet W.H. Auden’s elegy for Y.S. Yeats.
  • An arrowhead made by (Florida) Seminole Native Americans but found at Flint Ridge outside Columbus, Ohio.
  • E-mail between the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and her staff about North Korea.
  • A marriage license.

Despite their fluidity, what primary sources usually offer is too good not to consider using because:

  • They are original. This unfiltered, firsthand information is not available anywhere else.
  • Their creator was a type of person unlike others in your research project, and you want to include that perspective.
  • Their creator was present at an event and shares an eyewitness account.
  • They are objects that existed at the particular time of the project you are studying.

Particularly in humanities courses, your professor may require you to use a certain number of primary sources for your project. In other courses, particularly in the sciences, you may be required to use only primary sources.

What is considered primary and secondary sources can vary from discipline to discipline. If you are required to use primary sources for your research project, before getting too deep into your project, check with your professor to make sure he or she agrees with your choices. After all, it’s your professor who will be grading your project. A librarian, too, can verify your choices. Just remember to take a copy of your assignment with you when you ask, because the librarian will want to see the original assignment. After all, that’s a primary source!

POSSIBLE AnswerS TO ACTIVITY: Under What Circumstances?

  • You are doing a study of the entrances Wright designed for homes, which were smaller than other architects of the time typically designed entrances.
  • Your research project is about the Auden-Yeats relationship.
  • Your research project is about trade among 19th century Native Americans east of the Mississippi River.
  • Your research project is on how Ambassador Haley conveyed a decision about North Korea to her staff.
  • You are writing about the life of a person who claimed to have married several times, and you need more than her statements about when those marriages took place and to whom.
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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Search catalog, what are the differences.

Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin. This informs the reader as to whether the author is reporting information that is first hand or is conveying the experiences and opinions of others which is considered second hand. Determining if a source is primary, secondary or tertiary can be tricky. Below you will find a description of the three categories of information and examples to help you make a determination.

Primary Sources

These sources are records of events or evidence as they are first described or actually happened without any interpretation or commentary. It is information that is shown for the first time or original materials on which other research is based.  Primary sources display original thinking, report on new discoveries, or share fresh information.

Secondary Sources

These sources offer an analysis or restatement of primary sources. They often try to describe or explain primary sources. They tend to be works which summarize, interpret, reorganize, or otherwise provide an added value to a primary source.

Tertiary Sources

These are sources that index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. Tertiary sources are usually not credited to a particular author.

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Primary sources/secondary sources, what is a primary source, primary source examples.

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Primary sources provide the raw data you use to support your arguments. Some common types of primary resources include manuscripts, diaries, court cases, maps, data sets, experiment results, news stories, polls, or original research.  In many cases what makes a primary resource is contextual.  For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource.

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Search for books, articles, media and more

Check the current status of our systems, applications, and online resources

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Looking for a book, article, database or something else for your research, primary sources.

A  primary source  is an  original  document containing  firsthand  information about a topic.

Different fields of study may use different types of primary sources. Common examples of a primary source are:

  • Autobiographies
  • Eyewitness Accounts
  • Interview Transcripts
  • Legal Documents
  • Original works of art
  • Photographs of the topic
  • Original Research
  • Video Footage of the topic event
  • Works of literature

Secondary Sources

A  secondary source  contains commentary on or discussion about a primary source. The most important feature of secondary sources is that they offer an  interpretation  of information gathered from primary sources.

Common examples of a secondary source are:

  • Biographies
  • Indexes, Abstracts, Bibliographies (used to locate a secondary source)
  • Journal Articles
  • Literary Criticism
  • Monographs written about the topic
  • Reviews of books, movies, musical recordings,. works of art, etc.

Primary vs. Secondary Information

Primary sources are first hand sources; secondary sources are second-hand sources. For example, suppose there had been a car accident. The description of the accident which a witness gives to the police is a primary source because it comes from someone who was actually there at the time. The next day's newspaper story is a secondary source because the reporter who wrote the story did not actually witness the event.  The reporter is presenting a way of understanding the accident or an interpretation.

*From North Park University, History Department

However , the distinctions between primary and secondary sources can be ambiguous. It is important to remember that you cannot determine whether a source is primary or secondary solely based on the document type. An individual document may be a primary source in one context and a secondary source in another. For example, the movie  Love, Marilyn  is a secondary source when the topic is Marilyn Monroe; it would be considered a primary source if the topic of research was the works of Liz Garbus (the film's director).

Additionally, time can be a defining element. For example, a recent newspaper article is not usually a primary source; but a newspaper article from the 1860’s may be a primary source for United States Civil War research.

*From CBB Library and IT Consortium

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Sometimes, the same source might be a primary source for one research paper and a secondary source for another. It all depends on the relationship of the source to your research question. For example, if you are researching Franklin Roosevelt's life, the book  No ordinary time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The home front in World War II  by Doris Kearns Goodwin would be a secondary source. If you were researching the literary style of Ms. Goodwin, it would be a primary source.

*From Joyner Library, East Carolina University

More on Primary Sources

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Find Primary and Secondary Sources

  • What Are Primary Sources?
  • What Are Secondary Sources?

Examples of Sources by Academic Discipline

  • Finding Primary Sources in Online Databases
  • Finding Primary Sources on the Web
  • Finding Books with Primary Sources

Archaeology

  •  Primary source: an artifact (example: arrowhead)
  • Secondary source:  interpretation of what that artifact was used for
  • Primary source: original artwork
  • Secondary source: article critiquing the piece of art
  • Primary source:  autobiography, memoir, correspondence, diary, journal Secondary source:  biography

Computer science

  • Primary source: software program
  • Secondary source: user manual for the software

Criminal justice

  • Primary source: court transcript
  • Secondary source: true crime book about the trial
  • Primary source: college catalog
  • Secondary source: reference book reviewing courses from that college

Food service

  • Primary source: recipe
  • Secondary source: critique of the recipe

History  

  • Primary source: slave diary   
  • Secondary source: book about the Underground Railroad       
  • Primary source: the Constitution
  • Secondary source: interpretation of the Constitution
  • Primary source: poem
  • Secondary source: article on that poem

Photography

  • Primary source: photograph
  • Secondary source: a history of that photograph

Political Science  

  • Primary source: treaty
  • Secondary source: essay on Native American land rights
  • Primary source: psychological test
  • Secondary source: review of that test
  • Primary source: Bible
  • Secondary source: interpretation of the book of Genesis

Science or Social Science

  • Primary source: report of an original experiment
  • Secondary source: review of several studies on the same topic 

Social science

  • Primary source: interview or oral history
  • Secondary source: interpretation of that interview or oral history

Theater 

  • Primary source: videotape of a performance
  • Secondary source: biography of a playwright
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History: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources
  • Primary Source Databases
  • Web Resources
  • E-Books This link opens in a new window

Definitions (from Pennington School)

A primary source is an original material created during the time under study. Primary sources can be original documents, creative works, published materials of the times, institutional and government documents or relics and artifacts

Secondary sources put primary sources in context. They comment, summarize, interpret or analyze information found in primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written by individuals who did not experience firsthand the events about which they are writing.

Examples (from Penington School)

Selected sources.

  • Primary, Secondary or Tertiary Sources Tertiary sources: good for an overview; can help narrow a topic Secondary sources: sources created after the time of the event and not contemporaneous with the lifetime of the person Primary sources: original objects or documents created near the time being studied.

Analyzing Primary Sources

  • (3-D Pyramid) Five Steps to Analyze Primary Sources

Determining Primary vs. Secondary Sources (from Fresno State Univ.)

Primary vs. Secondary Sources: A Questionnaire

Answer the questions below about your source. If you answer, “yes” to any of the following questions, there is a good chance the source is PRIMARY.

Did the author personally witness or experience the subject in question? Does the author know about this subject because of personal experience rather than having just read about it? Is this source a diary, letter, memoir, autobiography, oral history, or interview of a person with first hand experience of the subject? Is this source an official document or record published at the time of the event by the government, courts, or another organization? Is this source a newspaper or magazine article written at the time of the event? Is this a creative work such as a novel, poem, art or music piece created by a firsthand witness of the subject in question? Is this an excerpt from a primary source, such as the constitution or a letter written by a Civil War soldier that has been imbedded in a secondary source, such as a textbook?Remember, secondary sources may include reprints of primary sources. Is this an artifact or relic such as jewelry, pottery, clothing, music, art, architecture, dance or weaponry that was used by witnesses of the subject in question? Is this a compilation of raw scientific data or statistics, such as census statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau, that is being published without commentary or interpretation?

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EDU 312: Introduction to Educational Research

  • Developing a Research Question
  • Background Information
  • Find Articles
  • Find Books & Media
  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources
  • Different Types of Sources
  • Evaluating Information
  • Media Literacy
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  • Need Help? Ask Us!
  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources provide the raw data you use to support your arguments. Some common types of primary resources include manuscripts, diaries, court cases, maps, data sets, experiment results, news stories, polls, or original research.  In many cases what makes a primary resource is contextual.  For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource.

What is a secondary source?

Secondary sources analyze primary sources, using primary source materials to answer research questions.  Secondary sources may analyze, criticize, interpret or summarize data from primary sources. The most common secondary resources are books, journal articles, or reviews of the literature. Secondary sources may also be primary sources. For example if someone studies the nature of literary criticism in the 19th century then a literary critique from the 19th century becomes a primary resource.

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Primary and Secondary Sources

  • Primary Sources
  • Finding Primary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

  • Scholarly Sources
  • Finding Secondary (and Scholarly) Sources

A  secondary source  is one that was created later by someone that did not experience firsthand or participate in the events in which the author is writing about. Secondary sources often summarize, interpret, analyze or comment on information found in primary sources.

Common examples of secondary sources include:

  • Biographies
  • Literary Criticism
  • Journal articles that do not present new research
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Research Sources: Primary vs. Secondary: Home

What are primary & secondary sources.

  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Finding Primary Sources
  • Library Primary Sources
  • Data & Statistics

Primary sources  provide the raw data you use to support your arguments. Some common types of primary resources include manuscripts, diaries, court cases, maps, data sets, experiment results, news stories, polls, or original research.  In many cases what makes a primary resource is contextual.  For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource.

However the category of primary or secondary is often determined by how the source is being used. Often newspapers are considered secondary sources as journalists report, analyze, and interpret events and the experience of others. Newspapers can also be used as primary sources. If you are researching how American attitudes on welfare spending have changed during the past twenty years, newspaper editorials can serve as primary sources of public opinion. Librarians and your instructor can help you identify primary and secondary sources for your projects.

Secondary Sources  analyze primary sources, using primary source materials to answer research questions.  Secondary sources may analyze, criticize, interpret or summarize data from primary sources. The most common secondary resources are books, journal articles, or reviews of the literature. Secondary sources may also be primary sources. For example if someone studies the nature of literary criticism in the 19th century then a literary critique from the 19th century becomes a primary resource.

There are so many types of primary resources it is important to define your parameters by:

  • Discipline (e.g. art, history, physics, political science)
  • Format (e.g. book, manuscript, map, photograph)
  • Type of information you need (e.g. numerical data, images, polls, government reports, letters)

On the next tab, Library Primary Resources, there are examples of terms you may search to find books with primary resource and links to archival collections at Hiram College Library.

Hiram Primary Source Subjects Examples

Chicago Ill Maps

Jobs Steve 1955-2011 Interviews

Pound Ezra 1885-1972  Correspondence

Presidents United States Archives

Roosevelt Eleanor 1884-1962 Diaries

United States Population Statistics

Hiram also has a number of  Newspapers  that may be primary sources. 

Search for books using Hiram College Library  catalog .

Use the Books Images & More tab, Advanced search: Subject. The subjects listed above are examples of ways to locate books that contain primary resources.

U nited States Census Data

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO)

Nation Master

National Center for Education Statistics

Current statistical information from all sectors of the United States economy including the census, budget, economic, and other sets. (Was information formerly grouped together in STAT-USA.

Compiles statistics on gender topics at the country level with statistics drawn from a variety of sources. Updated as additional statistics become available.

  • Sage Data Foundations This link opens in a new window Explore a curated collection of United States statistics in Data Planet Foundations. With this dynamic tool, you can scan and search the contents of billions of datasets, compare and contrast variables of interest, and create customized views in tables, maps, rankings, and charts. Views also include descriptive summaries of the datasets and data sources. Datasets cover a wide range of subjects – including business, finance, banking, economics, sociology, political science, demography, agriculture, education, international studies, criminal justice, housing and construction, labor and employment, energy resources and industries, and more. Sources include public, private/commercial, and nongovernmental organizations. Note: Data Planet Data will not be updated after 2021.

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary

Primary Source : An authoritative document relating to a subject, which is used in the preparation of a later work, such as an original record or a contemporary document.  In the humanities, a primary source is the document being analyzed; in the sciences it is a journal article reporting the results of original research.  Primary sources are also called original sources or source material.

Secondary Source : A publication that digests, analyzes, evaluates, and/or interprets the information in primary sources.

Tertiary Source :  A source that compiles, analyzes, and/or digests secondary sources.

Based on documents from:

William Madison Randall Library, University of North Carolina Wilmington

St. Lawrence University Libraries

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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: A Quick Guide: Secondary Sources

  • Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Tertiary Sources

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources are books, periodicals, web sites, etc. that people write using the information from primary sources. They are not written by eyewitnesses to events, for instance, but use eyewitness accounts, photographs, diaries and other primary sources to reconstruct events or to support a writer's thesis about the events and their meaning. Many books you find in the Cornell Library Catalog are secondary sources.

Reference Help

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Library Research Guide for the History of Science: Introduction

  • What is a Secondary Source?
  • Senior Theses 2023
  • Background and Context/Biography
  • Exploring Your Topic
  • Using HOLLIS

Page Contents

Recognizing secondary sources, find secondary sources, finding bibliographies.

  • What is a Primary Source?
  • Exploring the Special Collections at Harvard
  • Citing Sources & Organizing Research
  • Recognizing Secondary Sources
  • Finding Secondary Sources

Secondary sources were created by someone who did not experience first-hand or participate in the events or conditions you’re researching. For a historical research project, secondary sources are generally scholarly books and articles.

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

Some types of secondary source include:  Textbooks; journal articles; histories; criticisms; commentaries; encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A scholarly article about water and bathing in Mexico City, 1850-1920
  • A book about the psychological effects of WWI
  • A 2019 U.S. government document examining the work of African Americans at two Manhattan Project sites
  • An NPR piece on race and vaccine skepticism

For a historical research project, secondary sources are usually scholarly books and articles, but as you can see from this list there are other possibilties.

History of Science, Technology and Medicine (Harvard Login)  (1975- ) is an index of books, book chapters, and journal articles. Some social sciences material is included. 

  • HSTM is an amalgamation of four separate indexes with four different subject term systems; study the results of keyword searches to be sure that you know the proper subject terms for your topic in each of the, possibly four, relevant component databases. For example, the Wellcome Bibliography uses "Contraception" but the Isis Current Bibliography uses "Birth control".
  • If you want to limit the coverage of your sources to a particular era, put one of these terms in a search box:  Antiquity or Ancient - “Greek and Roman” - “Middle Ages” or medieval - 13th  century - 14th century - 15 th  century - 16 th  century - 17th century - 18th century - 19th century - 20th century
  • More detailed information about the use of this complex database.

ISISCB Bibliographic Resources in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine  indexes the Isis Current Bibliography.  Search results extend back to 1970.  It also offers a browse of the  Isis Cumulative Bibliographies  (1913-1975).  Search ISISCB Explore

PubMed (Harvard Login for full text access)  (1947- ) is the National Library of Medicine's index to biomedical journal articles.

  • To limit to historical sources, attach the phrase (in"") "historical article" to your search. Example: "Psychology, clinical" and "historical article".
  • Be sure to look for MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) on pertinent records by scrolling down past the abstracts. (Not all records in PubMed have MeSH terms.) Subject headings can help you get to more relevant records and/or can be helpful keyword suggestions.

America: History and Life (Harvard login)  is the primary bibliographic reference to the history of the United States and Canada from prehistory to the present.

Historical Abstracts (Harvard Login)  is a reference guide to the history of the world from 1450 to the present (excluding the United States and Canada, which are covered in America: History and Life, above).

  • Both allow coverage date limitations as well as publication date limitations, Can usually use LC terms, not always 

Bibliography of British and Irish History (Harvard Login)  provides bibliographic data on historical writing dealing with the British Isles, and with the British empire and commonwealth, during all periods for which written documentation is available - from 55BC to the present.

  • At the link above, choose BBIH from the top row of options.

The Forest History Society Research Portal  offers over 45,000 citations to published items on environmental history, over 30,000 photographs, and other material.

Web of Science Citation Indexes (Harvard Login)  (for historical articles1956- ) includes articles in all areas of science. You can use the Cited Reference Search in Web of Science to find secondary source articles that cite a specified secondary or primary source article or book. More information .

Library Guide to the History of Science Your guide to the History of Science at Harvard. It has more extensive lists of resources and tools than this introductory guide does.

There may already be a detailed list of sources, a bibliography, for your topic. Bibliographies don't always come at the end of a paper- many are independent works of their own, full of recommended sources on any given topic.

For example:

  • Microbes and Minie Balls: An Annotated Bibliography of Civil War Medicine (Print Only) , by F. R. Freemon. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993, 253 pp.                          
  • Annotated Bibliography on Medical Research in the South Pacific (Harvard login for HathiTrust full text), by Norman-Taylor, William, South Pacific Commission, 1963. 371pp.

Look for specialized subject bibliographies: search, e.g., <"science and state" AND China AND bibliography>   in HOLLIS  and WorldCat (advanced search). Note:The word Bibliography must be searched as a Subject keyword.

If you find an older article or book in a bibliography, you can use the Cited Reference Search in Web of Science to find more recent articles by seeing who has cited it.   If you have a bibliography of primary sources, then the Web of Science can be used to find secondary sources that cite a specified primary source. See Searching the Citation Indexes (Web of Science) .

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  • Last Updated: Mar 9, 2024 8:13 PM
  • URL: https://guides.library.harvard.edu/HistSciInfo

Harvard University Digital Accessibility Policy

is biography an example of a secondary source

Primary Sources

  • Primary vs Secondary Sources
  • So, Basically...
  • Searching Tip: Which word(s) to use?

PRIMARY Sources:

  • First-hand accounts by people who experienced event.
  • A person's account of own feelings, actions, or experiences.
  • Object or document that comes directly from person/place/event researched.

SECONDARY Sources:

  • Second-hand accounts by people who did not experience event.
  • One person's account of someone else's feelings, actions, or experiences.
  • Object or document that originates much later than person/place/event researched.
  • Contains INTERPRETATIONS, analysis, synthesis.

Content Versus Format:

  • Is a newspaper always primary, and is a book always secondary? NO.
  • "Primary" and "secondary" relate to the CONTENT, not the format.
  • Primary sources OFTEN appear in document types such as letters and newspapers, but a source doesn't have to be primary just because of its format. The same is true of sources on paper versus sources on the Internet, and sources which are duplicated as they appear (by scanning or photographing) versus sources which are transcribed (retyped word for word in plain text) -- it's the content that counts.

It's All About CONTEXT:

  • There is nothing inherent in a document or object that automatically makes it always "primary" or "secondary."
  • YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION determines whether the source is primary or secondary for YOUR research.
  • The same document could be a primary source for one paper and a secondary source for another paper.
  • Example: 1975 biography about Abraham Lincoln would probably be a... -- Secondary source if you are studying Lincoln’s life. -- Primary source if you are studying how people wrote historical biographies in the 1970s.

How to Evaluate a Source

First, read the source!! Then ask yourself:

  • What kind of document/object is this?
  • Who created it? What is his role/occupation?
  • When was it written/created? (And when was the event I am researching?)
  • What information does this source convey?

Try to fill in this sentence: "This is a _____ written by ____, who is ____. It was written in ____ and it contains _____."

Then read that sentence aloud and ask yourself: Primary or Secondary?

Content courtesy of Erin Cassidy, Sam Houston State University Library 2013

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  • Last Updated: Mar 20, 2024 11:24 AM
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Primary and secondary sources

Primary sources provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. Often these sources are created at the time the events occurred but they can also include sources that are created later. They are usually the first formal appearance of original research.

Secondary sources involve analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources.

Scholarly journals, although generally considered to be secondary sources, often contain articles on very specific subjects and may be the primary source of information on new developments.

Primary and secondary categories are often not fixed and depend on the study or research you are undertaking. For example, newspaper editorial/opinion pieces can be both primary and secondary. If exploring how an event affected people at a certain time, this type of source would be considered a primary source. If exploring the event, then the opinion piece would be responding to the event and therefore is considered to be a secondary source.

Primary sources

Examples of primary resources include:

  • diaries, correspondence, ships' logs
  • original documents e.g. birth certificates, trial transcripts
  • biographies, autobiographies, manuscripts
  • interviews, speeches, oral histories
  • case law, legislation, regulations, constitutions
  • government documents, statistical data, research reports
  • a journal article reporting new research or findings
  • creative art works, literature
  • newspaper advertisements and reportage and editorial/opinion pieces

Primary sources can be found using:

  • Library collection
  • History subject guide

Secondary sources

Secondary sources offer an analysis, interpretation or a restatement of primary sources and are considered to be persuasive. They often involve generalisation, synthesis, interpretation, commentary or evaluation in an attempt to convince the reader of the creator's argument. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • journal articles that comment on or analyse research
  • dictionaries and encyclopedias
  • books that interpret, analyse
  • political commentary
  • biographies
  • dissertations
  • newspaper editorial/opinion pieces
  • criticism of literature, art works or music

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    is biography an example of a secondary source

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COMMENTS

  1. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    For example, an autobiography is a primary source while a biography is a secondary source. Typical secondary sources include: Scholarly Journal Articles. Use these and books exclusively for writing Literature Reviews. ... For example, although scholarly journal articles are usually considered secondary sources, if one's topic is the history of ...

  2. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research. Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews ...

  3. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    A primary source gives you direct access to the subject of your research. Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews, and academic books. A secondary source describes, interprets, or synthesises primary sources. Primary sources are more credible as evidence ...

  4. What are some examples of secondary sources?

    What are some examples of secondary sources? Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles, reviews, essays, and textbooks. Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets primary sources can be a secondary source. If a source gives you an overview of background information or presents another researcher's ideas on your topic, it is probably a secondary source.

  5. Is a Biography a Primary Source? Details Every Author Should Know

    The short answer is no. In most cases, a biography is considered a secondary source; however, there's a little more to it than that. A primary source is a first-person account (e.g., direct quote, diary entry) or the original source of information (e.g., a research organization that creates original data for an industry.).

  6. Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources in Research

    A biography — such as a book about Lincoln's life — is a good example of a secondary source. You can also use secondary sources to support and strengthen your arguments. By citing expert opinions, statistics, or relevant studies, you add weight to your claims and make your writing more persuasive.

  7. Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

    Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. The important thing to keep in mind when trying to decide if a source is primary or secondary is whether or not the author did the thing they are reporting on. If they did, it is a primary source; if they did not, it is a ...

  8. 2.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

    The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources. Here are examples to illustrate the first- handedness, second-handedness, and third-handedness of information: J.D. Salinger's novel Catcher in the Rye.

  9. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin. This informs the reader as to whether the author is reporting information that is first hand or is conveying the experiences and ...

  10. Primary Sources/Secondary Sources

    In many cases what makes a primary resource is contextual. For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource.

  11. Primary and Secondary Sources in the Humanities and Social Sciences

    A secondary source contains commentary on or discussion about a primary source. The most important feature of secondary sources is that they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources. Common examples of a secondary source are: Biographies. Indexes, Abstracts, Bibliographies (used to locate a secondary source)

  12. Examples of Sources by Academic Discipline

    Primary source: an artifact (example: arrowhead) Secondary source: interpretation of what that artifact was used for; Art. ... : article critiquing the piece of art; Biography. Primary source: autobiography, memoir, correspondence, diary, journal Secondary source: biography; Computer science. Primary source: software program; Secondary source ...

  13. History: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    A primary source is an original material created during the time under study. Primary sources can be original documents, creative works, published materials of the times, institutional and government documents or relics and artifacts. Secondary sources put primary sources in context. They comment, summarize, interpret or analyze information ...

  14. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources may analyze, criticize, interpret or summarize data from primary sources. The most common secondary resources are books, journal articles, or reviews of the literature. Secondary sources may also be primary sources. For example if someone studies the nature of literary criticism in the 19th century then a literary critique ...

  15. Library: Primary and Secondary Sources: Secondary Sources

    A secondary source is one that was created later by someone that did not experience firsthand or participate in the events in which the author is writing about. Secondary sources often summarize, interpret, analyze or comment on information found in primary sources. Common examples of secondary sources include: Books. Biographies.

  16. Research Sources: Primary vs. Secondary: Home

    For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource. ... Secondary Source: A publication that digests, analyzes, evaluates, ...

  17. Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources are books, periodicals, web sites, etc. that people write using the information from primary sources. They are not written by eyewitnesses to events, for instance, but use eyewitness accounts, photographs, diaries and other primary sources to reconstruct events or to support a writer's thesis about the events and their meaning.

  18. Secondary source

    Scipione Amati's History of the Kingdom of Woxu (1615), an example of a secondary source.. In scholarship, a secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. A secondary source contrasts with a primary, or original, source of the information being discussed. A primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation or ...

  19. 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 contain pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources. Some types of secondary source include: Textbooks; journal articles; histories; criticisms; commentaries; encyclopedias

  20. Primary vs Secondary Sources

    There is nothing inherent in a document or object that automatically makes it always "primary" or "secondary." YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION determines whether the source is primary or secondary for YOUR research. The same document could be a primary source for one paper and a secondary source for another paper. Example: 1975 biography about Abraham ...

  21. Primary and secondary sources

    Primary and secondary sources. Primary sources provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. Often these sources are created at the time the events occurred but they can also include sources ...