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How to Write a Research Paper

Primary Sources Define

Primary Sources Defined

Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic or question under investigation. They are usually created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring.

"Primary sources . . . are defined as the direct evidence of a time and place that you are studying – any material (documents, objects, etc.) that was produced by eyewitnesses to or participants in an event or historical moment under investigation. Secondary sources, in contrast, are interpretations – often generated by scholars – that are based upon the examination of multiple primary sources." (from Primary Source.org)

Source Types

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples
Primary
A first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. The original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.
  • First person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights

Secondary
One step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information conveyed in the primary source.

 

  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

Tertiary
Further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

 

  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog