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Research Sources: Primary vs. Secondary: Home

What are Primary & Secondary Sources?

Primary sources provide the raw data you use to support your arguments. Some common types of primary resources include manuscripts, diaries, court cases, maps, data sets, experiment results, news stories, polls, or original research.  In many cases what makes a primary resource is contextual.  For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln is a secondary resource about Lincoln. However, if examined as a piece of evidence about the nature of biographical writing, or as an example of the biographer's writing method it becomes a primary resource.

However the category of primary or secondary is often determined by how the source is being used. Often newspapers are considered secondary sources as journalists report, analyze, and interpret events and the experience of others. Newspapers can also be used as primary sources. If you are researching how American attitudes on welfare spending have changed during the past twenty years, newspaper editorials can serve as primary sources of public opinion. Librarians and your instructor can help you identify primary and secondary sources for your projects.

 Disciplines

 Primary source examples

 Anthropology, Archaeology

 Articles describing research, ethnographies, surveys, cultural and historical artifacts

 Communications, Journalism

 News (printed, radio, TV, online), photographs, blogs, social media sites

 Education, Political Science, Public  Policy

 Government publications, laws, court cases, speeches, test results, interviews, polls, surveys

 Fine Arts

 Original art work, photographs, recordings of performances and music, scripts (film, theatre, television), music scores, interviews, memoirs, diaries, letters

History

 Government publications, newspapers, photographs, diaries, letters, manuscripts, business records, court cases, videos, polls, census data, speeches

Language and Literature

 Novels, plays, short stories, poems, dictionaries, language manuals

Psychology, Sociology, Economics

 Articles describing research, experiment results, ethnographies, interviews, surveys, data sets

Sciences

 Articles describing research and methodologies, documentation of lab research, research studies

 

Secondary Sources analyze primary sources, using primary source materials to answer research questions.  Secondary sources may analyze, criticize, interpret or summarize data from primary sources. The most common secondary resources are books, journal articles, or reviews of the literature. Secondary sources may also be primary sources. For example if someone studies the nature of literary criticism in the 19th century then a literary critique from the 19th century becomes a primary resource.

However the category of primary or secondary is often determined by how the source is being used. Often newspapers are considered secondary sources as journalists report, analyze, and interpret events and the experience of others. Newspapers can also be used as primary sources. If you are researching how American attitudes on welfare spending have changed during the past twenty years, newspaper editorials can serve as primary sources of public opinion. Librarians and your instructor can help you identify primary and secondary sources for your projects.

 Disciplines

 Secondary source examples

 Anthropology, Archaeology

 Reviews of the literature, critical interpretations of scholarly studies

 Communications, Journalism

 Interpretive journal articles, books and blogs about the communications industry.

 Education, Political Science, Public Policy

 Reviews of the literature, critical interpretations of scholarly studies

 Fine Arts

 Critical interpretations of art and artists—biographies, reviews, recordings of live performances

 History

 Interpretive journal articles and books

 Language and Literature

 Literary criticism, biographies, reviews, text books

 Psychology, Sociology, Economics

 Reviews of the literature, critical interpretations of scholarly studies

 Sciences

 Publications about the significance of research or experiments

There are so many types of primary resources it is important to define your parameters by:

  • Discipline (e.g. art, history, physics, political science)
  • Format (e.g. book, manuscript, map, photograph)
  • Type of information you need (e.g. numerical data, images, polls, government reports, letters)
  • Date range

On the next tab, Library Primary Resources, there are examples of terms you may search to find books with primary resource and links to archival collections at Hiram College Library.

Hiram Primary Source Subjects Examples

Chicago Ill Maps

Jobs Steve 1955-2011 Interviews

Pound Ezra 1885-1972  Correspondence

Presidents United States Archives

Roosevelt Eleanor 1884-1962 Diaries

United States Population Statistics

Hiram also has a number of Newspapers that may be primary sources. 

Search for books using Hiram College Library catalog.

 

Advanced Search

Use the Books Images & More tab, Advanced search: Subject. The subjects listed above are examples of ways to locate books that contain primary resources.

Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Digital Animal Sounds

Contains digitized audio recordings of songbirds. Additional animal and bird sounds will be added as they are digitized. The Borror Laboratory houses one of the largest collections of recorded animal sounds in the world with more than 30,000 recordings of some 1000 species.

Primary vs. Secondary

Primary Source: An authoritative document relating to a subject, which is used in the preparation of a later work, such as an original record or a contemporary document.  In the humanities, a primary source is the document being analyzed; in the sciences it is a journal article reporting the results of original research.  Primary sources are also called original sources or source material.

Secondary Source: A publication that digests, analyzes, evaluates, and/or interprets the information in primary sources.

Tertiary Source:  A source that compiles, analyzes, and/or digests secondary sources.

  Primary Secondary Tertiary

Timing of Publication

Cycle

Tends to come first in the publication cycle. Tends to come second in the publication cycle. Tends to come last in the publication cycle.
Formats – depends in part on the type of analysis being done and the subject discipline

Newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines, letters, diaries.  For scientists, scholarly journal articles.

Scholarly journal articles and books that build upon the primary sources. Reference books (encyclopedias, for example) or text books.
Example: Historian (studying the Vietnam War)

Newspaper articles, weekly news magazines, monthly magazines, recordings of TV news broadcasts, diaries, letters, and diplomatic records.

Scholarly journal articles and books analyzing the war, which probable footnote the primary sources. Encyclopedias and other reference books and text books that include information about the Vietnam War.
Example: Literary Critic (studying the literature of the Vietnam War) Novels, poems, plays, diaries, correspondence.

Scholarly journal articles and books analyzing the literature.  Biographies of the authors who wrote the primary sources.

Encyclopedias and other reference books and text books that include information about the literature or the authors.
Example: Psychologist (studying the effects of PTSD) Article in a scholarly journal that reports original research and its methodology, as well as notes taken by a clinical psychologist. Scholarly journal articles or books that synthesize the results of original research. Encyclopedias and other reference books and text books that include information about PTSD.
Example: Scientist (studying Agent Orange exposure) Article in a scholarly journal that reports original research. Scholarly journal articles or books that synthesize the results of original research.

Encyclopedias and other reference books and text books that include information about the literature or the authors.

Based on documents from:

William Madison Randall Library, University of North Carolina Wilmington

St. Lawrence University Libraries

Digital Services and Instruction Librarian

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Jason Schafer
Contact:
Digital Services and Instruction Librarian
Hiram College Library
11694 Hayden Street
Hiram, OH 44234
(330) 569-5363