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Instructional Resources: Primary and Secondary Information

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Instructors will sometimes ask you to use primary sources of information for your research paper as well as some secondary resources. What's the difference?

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time of the subject being researched. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event.

Some types of primary sources include:

  • Original documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • Creative Works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • Relics or Artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • Declaration of Independence - U.S. History
  • A journal article reporting new research or findings 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece
  • Legal Cases

Secondary Sources

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.

Some types of secondary sources include:

  • Journal articles
  • Law reviews
  • Textbooks
  • magazine articles
  • histories
  • criticisms
  • commentaries
  • encyclopedias

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings
  • A history textbook
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

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Sources Cited in This Guide

“Primary Vs Secondary Sources.” New Jersey’s Science and Technology University. New Jersey Institute of Technology. n.d. Web. 7 Aug. 2012.

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