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Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources

This research guide explains what primary and secondary sources are, and how to find them for using in research papers.

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it. They are typically created at the time the event took place. 

Primary Sources include:

  • Original research, including research articles in academic journals which include an experiment by the author(s).
  • Texts of laws and other government documents.
  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did.
  • Speeches, diaries, autobiographies, letters and interviews - what the people involved said or wrote.
  • Datasets, survey data, such as census or economic statistics.
  • Photographs, video, or audio of an event.

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are one step removed from primary sources, though they often quote or use primary sources. These sources interpret or analyze events. They are usually written by individuals who are at least one step removed from the event.

     Secondary Sources include:

  • Most books about a topic.
  • Encyclopedias.
  • Textbooks.
  • Literary criticism.
  • Analysis or interpretation of data.
  • Scholarly or other articles about a topic, especially by people not directly involved.
  • Documentaries.
  • Journal articles that are meta-analyses or systematic reviews.

Examples by Discipline

Primary vs. Secondary Sources Video

This video from the Hartness Library defines and identifies some of the differences between primary and secondary sources.


This guide was adapted from the Clovis Community College LibGuide "Primary vs. Secondary Sources."