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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

To learn about this, watch the Primary and Secondary Sources tutorial, and read the information below. 

 

 What's the difference between primary and secondary sources?

  • Primary sources are works that were created or written in the time an event happened.
  • Secondary sources analyze or interpret an event that already occurred or a creative work, like an analysis of a classic novel or film.


Primary source materials are original documents containing firsthand accounts of an event.

Examples:

  • eyewitness accounts, including a person close to the event or topic you're investigating. A person who lived during the Vietnam War would be a primary source for a report on the war. You would gather information through an interview process.
  • a document from the time period you are investigating: journal or diary, letter, speech, newspaper article written at the time of the event, government document
  • photograph and audio or video recording taken at an event
  • original works of art
  • works of literature

For more information about primary sources, take a look at the eBook, Go Straight to the Source

Secondary source materials are written or reported at some point after an event occurred by someone other than the originator. The most important distinction is that it provides an interpretation of information found in primary sources.

Examples:

  • book
  • magazine or journal article
  • newspaper article or editorial that interprets an event
  • scientific study
  • movie or documentary

For instance, a book, magazine article, newspaper article, or documentary about the Vietnam War is a secondary source.

Where do I find a primary source?
Primary sources can take many forms -- an actual diary to a transcript of a diary, a work of art in a museum to a picture of that piece in a book or on the Internet, an in-person interview to an account of an interview in a newspaper or documentary, etc. Some primary sources can be found in print, online, or in a periodicals database. Beyond what your local or public library has available, you can find primary sources online. Try some of these to start.

Where do I find a secondary source?
Secondary sources like books, magazines, and other examples listed above can be found in print, online, or in periodicals database. Many are available at your local school or public library.