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Primary Sources Guide

A guide to understanding the definition of a primary source, how to use them, and where to find them.

Understanding Research Sources

A primary source is a first-hand account from a person or organization who:

  • Created an original work
  • Participated in new scientific discoveries
  • Witnessed an event

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Art and artifacts
  • Autobiographies, diaries, and memoirs
  • Interviews and oral histories
  • Novels and poetry
  • Photographs
  • Data and surveys

Why are primary sources useful? Primary sources are useful to:

  • Observe and analyze an event from an eyewitness perspective
  • Develop your own opinions and explanations
  • Learn if you agree or disagree with the authors of secondary/tertiary sources and their conclusions

A secondary source has the following qualities:

  • It comments on or analyzes something
  • It often summarizes or interprets primary sources
  • It's usually written by someone who was not directly involved or an eyewitness

Some examples of secondary sources include:

  • Analysis or criticism, such as literary criticism
  • Biographies
  • Essays and reviews
  • Textbooks

Why are secondary sources useful? Secondary sources are useful because they:

  • Help you consider diverse viewpoints about a topic
  • Organize and outline information in an approachable way
  • Offer information and analysis from experts

Remember, secondary sources are often based on studying and analyzing primary sources. Another way to think about it? Your research paper is a secondary source because you're analyzing and interpreting other sources.

A tertiary source has the following qualities:

  • It lists and compiles information without additional analysis
  • It repackages important ideas and information from other primary and secondary sources

Some examples of tertiary sources include:

  • Directories of local, state, and national organizations
  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Guidebooks and handbooks
  • Indexes
  • Manuals

Why are tertiary sources useful? Tertiary sources are useful because they help you:

  • Gather background information about a topic or concept
  • Find a variety of information in one source
  • Provide information in a concise and compact way

Examples of Primary Sources vs. Other Sources

One area of study at Central Piedmont where primary sources are often used is History. Here are some examples:

Another area of study at Central Piedmont where primary sources often come into play is English. Here are some examples:

One other area of study at Central Piedmont where primary sources often come into play is Communications. Here are some examples:

Credit: Austin Community College's Primary Sources guide served as the inspiration and model for this LibGuide.

Additional Help

Step by Step Research Guide Citation Help Tutorials