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Primary vs. Secondary Resources

When writing a paper in the humanities and social sciences, you may be required to rely on primary source material for your evidence. While you may not be familiar with the difference between primary and secondary sources, you've probably used them a lot in your research without realizing! Primary and secondary categories differ depending on the subject or research you are doing. 

Primary Sources

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of events or time-period and can be considered authoritative on the subject. They include original thoughts and opinions of the time, a detailed account of events happening, and provide a contemporary perspective on the material you are learning. Primary sources may include: 

  • Diaries, letters, logs, etc. 
  • Transcripts
  • Speeches and interviews
  • Government documents
  • Newspaper reports, advertisements, articles
    • Sometimes newspapers may be considered a secondary resource, it will depend on the context used. 
  • Oral histories, photographs, recordings from the time period or event
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
    • Certain biographies may be included depending on the publishing date of the biography

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources provide cultural context and analysis of primary sources. They are usually done to persuade an idea or opinion of a subject or topic. By offering interpretations and commentary, researchers are able to create generalizations that help explain primary sources. Secondary sources may include: 

  • Textbooks or scholarly research that cover a topic or time period
  • Biographies
  • Opinion editorials and articles in newspapers
  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Literature and art criticism