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Primary v. Secondary Sources

Primary sources are materials that contain firsthand evidence of events, usually recorded by someone who participated in, witnessed, or lived through the event.

The following are commonly considered primary sources:

  • Diaries, letters, personal papers, autobiographies
  • Photographs or original video tapes or television advertisements
  • Interviews and transcripts
  • Newspaper accounts
  • Government records
  • Historical records
  • Statutes, regulations, by-laws, case law and administrative rulings
  • Statistical data
  • Artistic or creative works (poems, paintings, sculpture, etc.)

Secondary sources are works that are not original primary sources, but documents which offer an analysis, interpretation, or evaluation of information gathered from primary sources. For example, books critiquing Shakespeare's plays or a product review are secondary sources.

The following are commonly considered secondary sources:

  • Biographies
  • Criticisms
  • Dissertations
  • Editorials and reviews
  • Journal/Magazine articles providing analysis, interpretation, or evaluation
  • Newspaper accounts that report various sources of information

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What is a Primary Source?