Primary or secondary sources

Primary sources

  • are the original materials or evidence to be analyzed, evaluated, contextualized, or synthesized in the research process.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they are usually from the time period under study and offer first-hand accounts or direct evidence responsive to the research question.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, they are the first articles published formally describing a research project or study.

The history how to: primary sources guide has lots more information.

Some examples of primary sources include:

Social Sciences & Humanities Science & Engineering

Primary Sources

  • Historical newspapers
  • Documentary photographs or videos
  • Corporate or organizational records
  • Works of art, literature, or music
  • Eyewitness accounts or testimony
  • Interviews
  • Diaries, journals, or letters
  • Statutes, laws, or regulations
  • Speeches, legal decisions, or case law
  • Archaeological or historical artifacts
  • Survey research   
  • Articles describing the research design and findings of original studies
  • Articles describing new experiments or sets of experiments
  • Reports on original research or observations
  • Technical reports
  • Patents or industrial designs

Secondary sources

  • analyze, evaluate, contextualize, or synthesize evidence. They often give second-hand accounts based on engagement with primary sources.
  • in the Social Science and Humanities, they comment on or analyze texts, oral communications, artifacts, or archives of primary sources.
  • in the Science & Engineering fields, because many primary sources are scholarly articles reporting first-hand on new studies or research, the secondaries often synthesize or analyze many such results.

Some examples of Secondary sources include:

Social Sciences & Humanities Science & Engineering

Secondary Sources       
  • Scholarly journal articles
  • Scholarly books or monographs
  • Interpretive newspaper or magazine articles and editorials
  • Interpretive blog posts
  • Book, art, music, or theater reviews
  • A non-eyewitness record of an event written by someone without a close connection to the event
  • Quantitative meta-analysis articles that use statistical methods to determine relationships or patterns in the published scholarly literature on a topic
  • Systematic review articles that use a research question to select and synthesize published evidence relevant to that question
  • Survey articles that summarize an entire field of research
  • Scholarly book reviews

Adapted from "Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources"  (http://collegeresearch.gmu.edu/primary-secondary-tertiary/) by George Mason University licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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