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Primary & Secondary Sources: About

Research will often require the use of both primary and secondary sources. What does that mean? Read on!

A quick definition:

Primary & Secondary

 

Definitions Broad Examples Specific Examples
Primary
Materials
  • Original, first-hand
    account of event or
    time period. Not
    interpretive.
  • Original, creative writing
    or works of art
  • Diaries/journals, and letters
  • Research published in a
    peer-reviewed journal
  • Government records
    (census, marriage, military)
  • Photographs, maps, postcards
  • Recorded or transcribed speeches
  • Interviews with participants
    or witnesses
Secondary
Sources
  • Second-hand account-analyzes and interprets primary sources
  • Interprets creative work
  • Biographies
  • Literary Criticism
  • Theater Reviews
  • Newspaper articles
    that interpret

The Sciences

When researching in the sciences, here are examples of primary materials:

Secondary sources will analyze research results and/or interpret scientific discoveries.
e.g. Carlson, W. Bernard. 2013. Tesla: inventor of the electrical age.

Research Tip! As a new scholar you will use the sources and materials necessary to answer your research question. If you must select a reference from another discipline, that’s what you do. The examples here are often used by science majors, but not exclusively!

.

What about tertiary?

Tertiary sources present summaries or condensed versions of subjects, usually with references to the primary material and significant secondary sources. Tertiary sources provide a good starting point for research.

Tertiary sources include:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Handbooks

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