UMGC Library

Research Guide for Primary Sources: Primary vs Secondary

Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are documents, web pages, videos, etc., created by people or organizations directly involved in an issue or event. Primary sources are information before it has been analyzed by scholars, students, and others.

Some examples of primary sources:

  • diaries and letters
  • academic articles presenting original scientific research
  • news reports from the time of the event
  • literature (poems, novels, plays, etc.)
  • fine art (photographs, paintings, sculpture, pottery, music etc.)
  • official records from a government, judicial court, or company
  • oral histories
  • speeches
  • autobiographies

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources analyze and interpret issues and events. Secondary sources, such as scholarly articles, are typically written by experts who study a topic but are not directly involved in events themselves. Also, secondary sources are usually produced some time after an event occurs and may well contain analysis of primary sources.

Some examples of secondary sources:

  • encyclopedias
  • textbooks
  • scholarly articles that analyze, review, and/or compare past research
  • news reports or articles looking back at a historical event
  • documentaries
  • biographies

Primary vs Secondary

Primary Source Secondary Source
poem / novel critique
letter / diary anthology / scholarly article
interview / oral history book / scholarly article
empirical research article literature review
law / court case essay / review
census data / data set analysis of data
memoir / autobiography biography
photographs / speeches political commentary / analysis

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