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LiONiL: Library Instruction Online for Information Literacy

Module 4: Evaluating/Critical Thinking

Primary vs. secondary sources

Would you know what type of information to look for if your professor asked you to use a primary source as one or more of your sources for a research paper?

Most often we use secondary sources which are works that interpret or analyze primary sources.

Primary sources are firsthand accounts written by people who either participated in or observed an event or who recorded a period of history as it unfolded.

Primary sources can also be an original piece of research or a creative work.

Primary sources can also be artifacts such as jewelry or pottery. In the table below are some examples of primary source materials.

Primary sources can sometimes be tricky to identify. Determining whether or not a source is primary can depend upon the context inwhich you are using the source. Ask your librarian for assistance if you are struggling with locating primary sources for your research topic.

Primary sources may include:

Original works

diaries
correspondence
government documents
speeches
interviews
empirical research
opinion polls

Creative works

films
plays
novels
music
poetry
art
photographs

Artifacts

clothing
pottery
jewelry
furniture
toys
tools


key informationA good way to identify primary source materials about your topic is to check the bibliographies of your secondary sources.