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Find Primary and Secondary Sources

What are primary and secondary sources, and how can you find them?

Examples of Sources by Academic Discipline


  •  Primary source: an artifact (example: arrowhead)
  • Secondary source:  interpretation of what that artifact was used for


  • Primary source: original artwork
  • Secondary source: article critiquing the piece of art


  • Primary source:  autobiography, memoir, correspondence, diary, journal
    Secondary source:  biography

Computer science

  • Primary source: software program
  • Secondary source: user manual for the software

Criminal justice

  • Primary source: court transcript
  • Secondary source: true crime book about the trial


  • Primary source: college catalog
  • Secondary source: reference book reviewing courses from that college

Food service

  • Primary source: recipe
  • Secondary source: critique of the recipe


  • Primary source: slave diary   
  • Secondary source: book about the Underground Railroad       


  • Primary source: the Constitution
  • Secondary source: interpretation of the Constitution


  • Primary source: poem
  • Secondary source: article on that poem


  • Primary source: photograph
  • Secondary source: a history of that photograph

Political Science  

  • Primary source: treaty
  • Secondary source: essay on Native American land rights


  • Primary source: psychological test
  • Secondary source: review of that test


  • Primary source: Bible
  • Secondary source: interpretation of the book of Genesis

Science or Social Science

  • Primary source: report of an original experiment
  • Secondary source: review of several studies on the same topic 

Social science

  • Primary source: interview or oral history
  • Secondary source: interpretation of that interview or oral history


  • Primary source: videotape of a performance
  • Secondary source: biography of a playwright