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How to Research Guide

Primary and Secondary Sources

What’s a primary source?

Every time you encounter a piece of information – a picture, a conversation, an email, a movie, a video game - you interpret it. There’s no mediation besides you and whatever you bring with you in your head. You are the interpretive authority.

Primary sources allow you to do that. Primary sources are original materials. They present information in its original form. In the humanities and social science this information is neither interpreted nor condensed nor evaluated by other writers. In the sciences the information is analyzed and evaluated only by the authors of the original research but not by anyone else.

What’s a secondary source?

A secondary source is doing the work of interpretation alongside you. When you write down what you think is happening in that picture in front of you, you’ve just created a secondary source. You’re probably familiar with some already – like a textbook, or a friend’s opinion of a movie they just saw.

Secondary sources draw upon and interpret primary sources. A secondary source can help inform your interpretation of a primary source.

Think about it in your own context. What primary sources have you created to tell the story of you? (For example, maybe a tweet, a picture of something you enjoy doing, or your student ID card).

What secondary sources have you produced? (For example, maybe you’ve given an opinion of a movie or a tv show).

Source: Explore Information guide by UCONN


Primary Secondary
The text of The Gettysburg Address An analysis of The Gettysburg Address
Census data for Detroit A book about demographic changes in Detroit
A McDonald's commercial A documentary about McDonald's advertising
The results of an experiment or clinical trial An overview of different treatments options
An interview with a World War II veteran A history book about World War II

Primary vs. Secondary

Video by Davenport University Library

The Library, Limerick Institute of Technology