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What is a Primary and Secondary Source?

What is a primary source?

A primary source is something which gives you a firsthand look at a subject, created during the time that you're interested in, rather than a look that is filtered through another person's view. For example, you learn things about a person by looking at his or her diary or letters that you would never learn by reading a biography about the person written by someone else. Artwork can also serve as a primary source.

How do I find a primary source? 

There are keywords that you can add to a search that will help you to locate primary sources.  Some examples are:









You may also be able to limit your search to some kinds of primary source.  When searching a database, look for an opportunity to limit your search by Document Type.

What is a secondary source? 

A secondary source is one which is partially removed from the subject under consideration, and instead uses primary sources for its analysis. Secondary sources often provide perspective on an event, as well as a more over-reaching examination of the topic.

How do I find a secondary source?

Many of the sources that you will find during a regular search will be secondary.  Look for any source that seems to be describing or commenting on previous events and findings, such as a history book about the Renaissance, a journal article reporting on previously published data, or a recent analysis of social problems in the 1960s.