Primary sources are records and material that are original, direct, first-hand evidence of an event or object of study. They are recorded at the time of the event, like letters, government documents, photographs, artifacts, field data, and original creative works like art and fiction.
Secondary sources are articles, books, and other works that provide information about a past event or another work. They often give overviews, interpret or analyze the events or works, or are critical studies or reviews.
Sometimes, whether something is considered a primary or a secondary source depends on how you're using it. For instance, Animal Farm by George Orwell would be your primary source if you are writing a paper on the novel. However, it would be a secondary source if you are doing a study on the Russian Revolution and Stalin, and use the novel to support a point.
Here are some easier examples to get you started before you delve into the different formats of primary sources:
|Subject||Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|Art History||Painting, photo, film, play||Critical review of the art|
|History||Diary, letter, census data||Book about effects of historical events on local cultures|
|Literature||Novel, poem, screenplay||Essay analyzing the author's message|
|Nursing||Clinical trial, case study, X-ray||Clinical care notes|
|Political Science||Treaty, law, presidential communication||Textbook chapter on diplomacy|
These secondary sources are works about the primary sources.