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What is a secondary source?

Last Updated: Jun 02, 2014  |  38 Views

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At the most general level, 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, but are not themselves primary sources.

Some types of seconday sources include:

  • Publications: 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 the Vietnam War
It should be noted that there is often some difficulty in determing whether a source is primary or secondary and this distinction can often change over time or in a different context.  For example, if a document refers to the contents of a previous but undiscovered letter, that document may be considered "primary", since it is the closest known thing to an original source; but if the letter is later found, it may then be considered "secondary"

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Answered by Brody SelleckBookmark and Share

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