Secondary sources are documents written after an event has occurred, providing secondhand accounts of that event, person, or topic. Unlike primary sources, which provide first-hand accounts, secondary sources offer different perspectives, analysis, and conclusions of those accounts.
Primary sources refer to original events, documents and artifacts. Examples include: newspaper articles, photographs, and diaries. These are the works that are analyzed and interpreted to create secondary sources. For more information on finding primary sources see our Guide to finding primary sources.
Secondary sources can provide you with background information and offer analysis of the event or work by those removed one or more steps from the event or work itself. Scholarly articles are written by experts studying in a particular field, offering credibility to your research by providing interpretation of material by scholars. Secondary sources look beyond a particular event or artifact and can broaden your perspective and research. They can also provide historical perspective based on other events that have taken since the original event or work.
As with any research, examine the document or article carefully for accuracy and credibility. Use the following questions to help you determine whether or not you are using a credible secondary source:
Encyclopedias in the Undergrad Library and the UIUC Online Collection are a great place to get started with research and find secondary sources. Here is a sampling of encyclopedias that are good starting points on a variety of topics. In addition to the encyclopedia entries, use the bibliographies or references lists at the end of the entries to find additional sources on your topic. For additional resources, ask a librarian:
You may also wish to search our Online Encyclopedias and Reference Sources.
Use the Library Catalog to find books on a particular subject.
The Undergraduate Library’s Find Articles Guide provides resources to search magazines, newspapers, and other sources using databases such as Academic Search Premier (EBSCO). More specific subject databases will be found under specific categories on the list. Articles in many of these databases provide an analysis of data and historical events. Many provide the secondary sources that will help you broaden your topic and add credibility to your research.
Some good starting points include: