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Answered By: Michael Pujals
Last Updated: Sep 28, 2018     Views: 67

Primary vs. Secondary Sources




Primary Source

  • Original, first-hand account of an event or time period
  • Usually written or made during or close to the event or time period
  • Original, creative writing or works of art
  • Factual, not interpretive
  • Report of scientific discoveries
  • Results of experiments
  • Results of clinical trials
  • Social and political science research results
  • Factual, not interpretive

Secondary Source

  • Analyzes and interprets primary sources
  • Second-hand account of an historical event
  • Interprets creative work
  • Analyzes and interprets research results
  • Analyzes and interprets scientific discoveries




Primary Sources

  • Diaries, journals, and letters
  • Newspaper and magazine articles (factual accounts)
  • Government records (census, marriage, military)
  • Photographs, maps, postcards, posters
  • Recorded or transcribed speeches
  • Interviews with participants or witnesses (e.g., The Civil Right Movement)
  • Interviews with people who lived during a particular time (e.g., genocide in Rwanda)
  • Songs, Plays, novels, stories
  • Paintings, drawings, and sculptures
  • Published results of research studies
  • Published results of scientific experiments
  • Published results of clinical trials
  • Published results of an Empirical Study or Quantitative Study
  • Proceedings of conferences and meetings

Secondary Sources


  • Biographies
  • Histories
  • Literary Criticism
  • Book, Art, and Theater Reviews
  • Newspaper articles that interpret
  • Textbooks or reference books
  • Publications about the significance of research or experiments
  • Analysis of a clinical trial
  • Review of the results of experiments or trials


Primary Source

Secondary Source


“Song of Myself” (Poem)

Journal article about the poem’s historical importance


Results of clinical trial to treat ADD by modifying diet

Book about ways to treat childhood ADD without drugs

Politics and Government

U.S. Census Statistics

Book about suburban population changes in U.S.


Recorded interview with Choctaw American Indian

Journal article about Native Americans who served in WWII

Social Science

Diary of Anne Frank

Book about diaries kept during the Holocaust


Photographs by Diane Arbus

Magazine article about 20th century female photographers



Using Primary Sources on the Web
A brief guide from the American Library Association on evaluating primary internet resources with excellent examples of specific documents and image files.

Repositories of Primary Sources
A directory of over 5,000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the advanced research scholar. Includes links to libraries and other institutions with digitized primary resources.

The Library of Congress American Memory Project
AMP is a database of written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.

The Historical Text Archive
HTA is a database with three sections: full-text articles, essays, photographs, e-books, and links to other digitized primary resources.

Adapted from:  Susan Thomas, Evening and Weekend Librarian ( )