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Primary Sources

A primary source is the raw evidence or original document that is analyzed as part of the research process. What is considered a primary source varies somewhat by discipline, but examples include scientific study results, data, legal documents, interviews, historical artifacts, etc. Primary sources are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or circumstances, providing firsthand testimony or direct evidence. Typically primary sources are created contemporaneously with the event or circumstances, but primary sources can also include reflections recorded later, such as autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories.

Secondary sources interpret or analyze primary sources. Examples of secondary sources include scholarly articles, scholarly books, magazine articles, etc. Tertiary sources are a step further removed in the research process, typically compiling the findings of secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources are reference books and textbooks.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Art (paintings, drawings, sculpture, etc.)
  • Autobiographies
  • Court cases
  • First hand accounts
  • Films/Videos
  • Government documents
  • Letters
  • Literature
  • Lyrics
  • Maps
  • Memoirs
  • Newspaper articles, written at the time
  • Official memoranda
  • Oral histories
  • Performances and plays
  • Photographs
  • Poetry
  • Posters
  • Public opinion surveys/polls
  • Speeches
  • Statistics and data
  • Television shows