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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
  • Original, first-hand
    account of event or
    time period. Not
  • 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
  • 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