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Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources: Primary sources are original materials from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation.  Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based.  They are usually the first formal appearance of results in physical, print, or electronic format.  They present original thinking, report a discover, or share new information.  The definition of a primary source may vary depending on the discipline or context.

    • Original Documents (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
    • Creative Works: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
    • Relics or Artifacts: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

          Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece

Secondary Sources: A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

          Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI

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