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Primary & Secondary Sources: Home

This guide explains the differences between primary and secondary sources, including how to identify them, the different formats, and finding them.

Primary Sources

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

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.

Primary vs. Secondary

Primary vs. Secondary Source Examples

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 doing a study 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 locals
Literature Novel, poem, screenplay Essay analyzing the author's writing style
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.