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Identifying Primary and Secondary Resources

Primary Sources: Provide firsthand evidence about an event, person or work, oftentimes providing the original materials for additional research by scholars and students. Primary sources can be in multiple formats.

  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Diaries, personal letters, correspondence
  • Interviews, surveys, fieldwork
  • Internet communications on email, blogs, social media, listservs and newsgroups
  • Photographs, drawings, posters
  • Works of art and literature
  • Book, magazine and newspaper articles published at the time of the event or issue
  • Public opinion polls
  • Speeches and oral histories
  • Birth certificates, deeds, trial transcripts
  • Data sets, census statistics
  • Records of organizations and government agencies
  • Artifacts such as tools, coins, clothing, furniture
  • Audio recordings, DVDs, and video recordings
  • Government documents
  • Patents,
  • Scientific journal articles reporting experimental research results


Secondary Sources: Describe, discuss, interpret, comment on, analyze, evaluate, summarize primary sources. A secondary source is generally one or more steps removed from the event or time period are created after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

  • Biographical works
  • Bibliographies, reference works
  • Documentaries
  • Articles from magazines, journals and newspapers reported after the event
  • Literature reviews
  • History books and academic books
  • Textbooks