What are Primary and Secondary Sources?


Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

  • A primary source is a document, speech, or other type of evidence created during the time period under study.
  • Primary sources reflect the viewpoint of the participant or observer and offer the researcher an inside view of a particular event.

Primary sources include :

  • Original documents such as diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, and manuscripts, records of organizations such as minutes, reports, and correspondence, news film footage,  newspaper articles, official government records, photographs, audio recordings, video recordings,  research data, an eyewitness account.
  • Creative works such as art, drama, music, novels, and poetry
  • Relics or artifactssuch as physical objects, buildings, clothing, furniture, tools, toys, jewelry, and pottery.

Examples of primary sources:

  • The Bible records Hebrew customs during biblical times.
  • Plato's Republic describes individuals in ancient Greece.
  • The Declaration of Independence is an artifact fundamental to U.S. History.
  • Diary of Anne Frank records experiences of Jews in World War II.
  • Film footage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Pottery or weavings from Native American Indians.


Secondary Sources

What is a secondary source?

  • A secondary source provides interpretation and analysis of historical events or phenomenon.
  • Secondary sources are at least one step or more removed from the event and are generally written by someone other than the individual who experienced the event.

Types of secondary sources:

  • Secondary sources include journal articles, books, encyclopedias, dictionaries,  and reviews.

Examples of secondary sources:

  • Histories - a book about the effects of World War I.
  • Literary criticism analyzing a poem, novel, etc.
  • Magazine or newspaper articles about events or people.
  • Political commentary analyzing an election or politician.
  • A biography written in 1997 about Plato.
  • Textbooks.
  • Encyclopedias.