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Primary Sources: Home

This guide will discuss the difference between primary and secondary resources for use in research.
  • Last Updated: Oct 20, 2020 3:23 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.liberty.edu/c.php?g=1025550
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Primary Source Material vs Secondary Source Matrials

This guide will help you identify, find, and use primary source materials correctly.

Definition:

Primary source materials are "first hand" information. They are eyewitness accounts or come as close to the original source as possible.

Secondary source materials are interpretations and analysis based on primary sources. They provide commentary or criticism of a primary source. They describe, discuss, evaluate, summarize and process primary sources. They might collect, organize or repackage these materials.

Examples of Primary Source Materials

WHAT PEOPLE SAY:

  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Conversations
  • Internet communication: emails, blogs, listservs
  • Oral histories or field recordings
  • Audio and video recordings

WHAT PEOPLE WRITE:

  • Autobiographies, Memoirs, Diaries, and Journals
  • Letters, Emails, Blogs, Twitter feeds
  • Literature: Essays, Books, Poems
    • note: Books are simply a format. You can find both primary and secondary sources published in book form.

WHAT PEOPLE CREATE

  • Paintings, Sculptures,
  • Architectural plans
  • Television shows
  • Artifacts
  • Original music scores
  • Original sound recordings
  • Film footage of rehearsals, masterclasses, and performances
  • Notes on choreography, staging, costume design, and sets for dramatic performances

OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

  • Birth certificates, deeds, trial transcripts
  • Government reports, Congressional bills, Census results, Hearing scripts
  • Official records of an organization
  • Patents
  • Public opinion polls

STATISTICS AND DATA

  • Articles or data resulting from experiments, fieldwork or clinical trials
  • Survey results
  • Technical reports

Examples of Secondary Sources

WHAT PEOPLE SAY:

  • Television or radio commentary
  • Documentaries

WHAT PEOPLE WRITE:

  • Biographical works
  • Reference works
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Literary criticism or review
  • Magazine articles
  • Newspaper articles
  • Annotated versions of musical scores

Sources That Could Be Primary or Secondary

HISTORICAL NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE ARTICLES

  • They could be primary sources for someone researching a topic from a different era when they are used to understand or describe characteristics of that time period. Items published before the 20th century are sometimes considered primary sources. At the time they were written they would have been considered secondary.

NEWSPAPERS IN GENERAL

  • Current newspapers can be either primary or secondary. They are usually considered secondary, unless they are an eyewitness account of an event. Newspapers have many types of articles so each article would be considered on its own merit.

BOOKS

  • Books can be primary or secondary sources depending on the content. An original novel, poem, or play would be a primary source. A history book, for example, would be secondary because it is pulling its information about events from many different sources and often contains commentary by the author.