Sherratt Library

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources are original intellectual content: artistic works, diaries, newspaper reports witnessed by someone from the time of the event, memoirs, speeches, government reports & statistics, or another source of evidence written or created during the time under study.

Primary sources generally serve as foundation material for a subject area. Primary sources allow researchers to analyze the data or object for themselves in order to come up with alternate theories and opinions.

Primary sources can be speeches, letters, interviews, news programs, official records, novels, art, music, and scholarly journal articles reporting NEW research findings.

American Journal of Health EducationSecondary sources interpret, analyze, or comment on primary sources. Secondary sources can be encyclopedias, books, newspaper articles, reviews, critical essays, journal articles, or textbooks. When a writer looks at a primary document, and produces a work that tries to make sense of what he or she finds, the result is a secondary study or secondary source.

A secondary source is any source about an event, period, or issue in history that was produced after that event, period or issue has passed. The most commonly assigned secondary source in college writing is a scholarly monograph - a volume on a specific subject in the past, written by an expert. Also common are articles in scholarly journals, which are similar to monographs, but on a smaller, more focused scale.

Scholarly monographs and articles are very useful sources. Written by experts, they come with a certain built-in "credibility"; articles are often peer-reviewed, meaning that they were judged worthy of publication by other experts in the field prior to going into print. Similarly, books and monographs go through elaborate pre-publication editing processes to ensure a minimum of factual errors.

Primary and Secondary Sources Examples:

Declaration of Independence
Diary, personal letters
Historical documents
Newspaper report
Data from survey
Scientific experiment
Scientific research article

Literary criticism
Historical commentary
Social science article
Scientific article
Case study
History textbook

Britannica EncyclopediaTertiary sources repackage the information provided by the other two types of sources. Examples would be dictionaries or encyclopedias that summarize or abstract information, and present it in an easy to interpret format.