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English 300

Everything an English 300 student needs to know.

Primary and Secondary Sources

Learning to Identify Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources

Primary vs secondary sources


Primary resources

–Created by people who actually saw or participated in an event, or recorded their reactions immediately afterwards.

Secondary resources

–Created by someone not present when the event took place or removed by time from the event.

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How to Identify a Primary Source

written Sources
It's actually pretty easy to tell if an a resource is a primary source or not, despite the definition of a primary source being slightly different depending on your field of study.  Education's definition of a Primary Source is that it is Empirical Material Concerning Research Being Conducted (Usually a Survey, or Study).  History, Folklore and other Humanities' definition of a Primary Source is Empirical Material which is left as a first hand account of an event (written or otherwise).

primary sources

A Primary Source is:

Any kind of Empirical (Observed) Data:

Case Studies, Studies, Surveys 

Written observations of an event/class/reaction/etc.

An original object or document

First hand account or information

Direct Evidence

Primary Sources are the evidence of history, original records or objects created by participants or observers at the time historical events occurred or even well after the events, as in memoirs and oral histories.

Examples of Primary Sources:






Documents produced by Government Agencies


Audio or video recordings

Research Data

Objects or artifacts (Works of art, buildings tools, blueprints, weapons, tools, etc.)



secondary source

A Secondary Source is:

A Source that was written about primary sources at a later date (after the event)

Examples of Secondary Sources:

A Biography (a written account of another person's life)


Reference Books (Encyclopedias, etc.)

Articles in newspapers based on past events



Books or articles found that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research

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Sara McCaslin
The Commons at Helm Library 2019