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ELISE | Informing your studies: Primary and secondary sources


Quiz question There may be a quiz question related to the information on this page.

Primary or secondary?

Primary sources represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. They are usually the first formal appearance of original research.

Secondary sources involve analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources.

Scholarly journals, although generally considered to be secondary sources, often contain articles on very specific subjects and may be the primary source of information on new developments.

Primary sources Secondary sources
  • statistical data
  • manuscripts
  • surveys
  • speeches
  • autobiographies, diaries
  • oral histories, interviews
  • works of art and literature
  • research reports
  • government documents
  • original documents, e.g. birth certificates, trial transcripts
  • textbooks
  • books and articles that interpret or review research works
  • histories
  • criticism of literature, art works or music
  • biographies
  • political commentary
  • encyclopedias
  • dictionaries
  • newspaper editorials

See Primary and secondary sources for more guidance.

Ithaca College Library has developed a useful guide to the differences between primary and secondary sources

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