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Find Primary and Secondary Sources

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

What Are Secondary Sources?

Secondary sources interpret primary sources.  They are at least one step removed from the original event, account or phenomenon studied.  They interpret, assign values and/or draw conclusions about an event.  Secondary sources are usually in the form of published works. 

Examples of secondary sources are:

  • Books
  • Newspaper articles (These may be considered a primary source when they are factual and are describing an original event.  For example, a newspaper reporter might witness a fire and report on the fire the day after it happens.)
  • Magazine articles
  • Journal articles
  • Radio or television documentaries (These may contain portions of primary documents.  For example, a documentary on Martin Luther King, Jr. may contain original footage of his “I Have a Dream” speech)

Still not sure how to tell one from the other?  Ask yourself these questions:

  • How does the author know these details (names, dates, and times)?  Was the author present at the event or soon at the scene?
  • Where does this information come from – personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others?
  • Are the author's conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or have many sources been taken into account e.g. diaries, along with third party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts?


Still have questions? Ask a librarian!

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