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What is a primary source?

Last Updated: Jun 02, 2014  |  149 Views

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Primary sources are original documents, the first-hand accounts of a time period or an event. 

Types of primary sources include texts (letters, diaries, government reports, newspaper articles, novels, autobiographies), images (photographs, paintings, advertisements), artifacts (buildings, clothing, sculpture) and audio/visual (songs, oral history interviews, photos, films).

Primary sources may be available in their original form, or they may be reproduced, digitized, or reprinted in other sources.

Secondary sources are written about primary sources. Secondary sources include comments, interpretations, or discussions about the original material. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or discuss others’ original research.


Examples:  Primary Sources

Examples: Secondary Sources


original artworks, artifacts

article critiquing a piece of art


diaries, artifacts, speeches, maps, eyewitness accounts, laws, court cases, records of government agencies

book about a time period or event, an article about a supreme court case


poems, memoirs, autobiographies, original creative writing

biography of an author, an article that interprets a poem

Science or Social Sciences

empirical studies, research data, scientific experiments, public opinion polls, patents, census data, results of clinical trials

an article evaluating someone else’s original research, a literature review


plays, videotape of performances

biography of a playwright, review of a performance


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Answered by Brody SelleckBookmark and Share

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