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Evaluating Sources: Is it Primary or Secondary?

Is it Primary or is it Secondary?

PRIMARY sources are original sources or artifacts that document and provide evidence for an idea, event, person, or place. These can be written materials, audio or visual media, physical objects - almost anything!

Primary sources are important because they are the original source of our knowledge about someone or something, and are first-hand or contemporary to the event.. 

Researchers often find certain types of materials to be more important in different disciplines, although this depends on the research need and the information that is available. For example, newspaper articles, oral histories, and diaries or letters are important primary sources for historians, while scientists are more likely to use natural specimens, notes from lab experiments, or patents. Primary sources may located using the library catalog, databases, and internet search engines.

Examples of primary sources include:

  • reports of original research, often published in scholarly journals or books.
  • original works of fiction (i.e. novels, plays, poems and stories).
  • original works of art (i.e. paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs).
  • manuscripts, correspondence, diaries and autobiographies, interviews and other first-hand accounts.
  • contemporary news stories.
  • objects and artifacts.
  • research notes, raw data and statistics.

SECONDARY sources are removed one or more steps from the original item, time or creator. There is a layer of interpretation made by a second party.

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • summaries or analyses of research done by others.
  • biographies.
  • art reproductions (i.e. a poster of the Mona Lisa).
  • reviews of books, movies, art shows, plays and other performances.
  • summaries or analyses of past events.
  • textbooks and encyclopedias.

Please note that Primary and Secondary classifications are NOT the same as Popular and Scholarly!

Your Librarian

Laurie Preston's picture
Laurie Preston
McGraw-Page Library
Randolph-Macon College
P.O. Box 5005
305 Henry Street
Ashland VA 23005-5505