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Primary vs. Secondary Sources: Home

What's the Difference?

A primary source is any work that offers original content. Examples of primary sources include:

  • artifacts
  • diaries
  • letters
  • journals
  • speeches
  • memoirs
  • manuscripts
  • interviews
  • unpublished works

In addition, they may include magazine or newspaper reports witnessed by a participant from the time of the event, photographs, audio or video recordings, government reports, statistics, and research reports in the natural or social sciences, or original literary or theatrical works.

Secondary source materials are used to interpret or draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. Second hand sources can be described as at least one step removed from the event. Therefore, when a writer looks at a primary document, and produces another work (i.e. an article) that tries to make sense of what he or she finds, the result is a secondary study or secondary source. For example, if a magazine writer wrote about a speech by the president, it would be a secondary source. The information is not original, but it is an analysis of the speech.

These sources include:

  • journal articles
  • books
  • encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
  • reviews
  • newspaper articles
  • and specific essays
  • radio or television documentaries
  • conference proceedings

Video

This short video from Vermont's Hartness Library explains the difference between primary and secondary sources as well as explaining how to use them in your research. 

Literati Database

Learn about how to identify primary and secondary sources with this instructional video from Literati.

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