Primary vs. Secondary Sources

german docOccasionally one of your professors may ask you to write a paper citing primary sources. A primary source is a document, recording or physical object that conveys a first-hand account or direct evidence of an event or time period. Primary sources also include publications (often journal articles) which report results of or data from original research. (Note: digital, microform or published copies of original materials can still be considered primary sources as long as their content is unchanged)

Primary sources can include:

  • Diaries, interviews, memoirs, oral histories, and letters from first-hand observers
  • Video and sound recordings and photographs
  • Government documents such as birth or marriage certificates, census records, and trial transcripts
  • Maps
  • Physical artifacts such as medals, clothing,and tapestries
  • Survey research such as market surveys or opinion polls
  • Journal articles revealing the results of original research

Secondary sources are produced after an event occurs by someone who was not present during the event. They often cite primary sources and attempt to interpret, evaluate or analyze original sources.

Examples of Secondary sources include:

  • History textbooks
  • Encyclopedias
  • Commentaries, criticisms and analyses
  • Biographies and bibliographies

To find primary sources in the library catalog, do a keyword search for your topic and add one of the following words:

  • Diary
  • Memoir
  • Autobiography
  • Correspondence
  • Personal narrative
  • Speech
  • Oral history
  • Interview
  • Manuscript
  • Ask one of the friendly librarians if you need additional help.

    Jill Spreitzer, Librarian