Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Primary Sources are original works, documents, data, and other materials.
Secondary Sources build upon or report primary sources. These sources often explain, analyze, summarize, or comment on primary source materials.
Understanding and identifying primary and secondary sources may be easiest through examples in the context of different academic disciplines.
A "primary source" is the text (novel, short story, play, poem, etc.) by the author you are researching. Examples include:
- Short Stories
- Other works of fiction
A "secondary source" is a work about an author or his/her work. Examples include:
- Literary Criticism
- Biographical information about the author
- Historical context of a work
A "primary source" is information created by a person who experienced the event. An example is a manuscript of a 19th century land treaty between the US government and a Native American tribe.
A “secondary source” is written by someone not personally involved, perhaps long after the event. An example is a book written by a historian about land treaties between the US government and that tribe during that time period.
Stories written in newspapers or magazines can be considered either primary or secondary. Such articles are usually considered primary if the author(s) express firsthand knowledge of the people and events involved.
IN SCIENCE (including social sciences):
A “primary source” is original research that reports and interprets data collected by the author(s). Reports of such original research are often referred to as “empirical studies.”
A “secondary source” reports on results of data collected and analyzed by others. Secondary sources published in scholarly journals include literature reviews and meta-analyses. Articles in newspapers like the New York Times and magazines like Scientific American are secondary sources.