Primary and Secondary Sources—What’s The Difference?
  • 3-minute read
  • 25th February 2022

Primary and Secondary Sources—What’s The Difference?

When you write an essay or research paper, you gather the information you need from various sources. Most of these can be classified as primary sources or secondary, and strong academic writing will draw relevant information from both.

In this post, we’ll explain the difference between a primary source and a secondary source and give some examples of each.

What’s a Primary Source?

A primary source gives first-hand facts about your research subject. It provides direct evidence without analysis or interpretation. Primary sources are created by people who are (or were) directly involved with the event being studied.

The primary sources you refer to depend on your field of study. Let’s look at some examples for different subject areas:

●  Science: The main primary source used in the sciences is data. This could be data you’ve recorded from your own experiments, surveys, and interviews, or it may be from studies carried out by others.

●  Art: Original paintings and sculptures.

●  Literature: Novels, poems, and play scripts.

●  History: Artifacts, letters, and photos.

●  Law: Statutes and court records.

Working with primary sources gives you the opportunity to evaluate them and make your own analyses. It increases the validity of your research because it demonstrates that you haven’t relied solely on other people’s findings.

What’s a Secondary Source?

A secondary source refers to information from a primary source. It could simply describe the source, or it could offer some interpretation or analysis of it.

We’ll now take each of the above primary sources and give an example of a possible secondary source:

●  Data: Journal article

●  Painting: Biography of the artist

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●  Sculpture: Description from an exhibition guide

●  Novel: Book review

●  Poem: Critique

●  Artifact: Encyclopedia

●  Letter: Textbook

●  Photo: Documentary

●  Statute: Legal dictionary

●  Court records: Newspaper article

Secondary sources offer an alternative perspective on a primary source. They can help you gain a broad overview of a topic and often save you time by summarizing information from multiple sources. Moreover, secondary sources allow you to compare your findings with those of other researchers.

Summary: Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources provide first-hand accounts of a topic, while secondary sources provide some interpretation or analysis of a primary source. Both types are valuable in qualifying your research.

Whichever type you refer to in your academic writing, it’s important that you cite it correctly in the appropriate referencing style. If you’re referring to a study you read about in a secondary source, you should, if possible, locate the original primary source and cite it directly.

We hope you now know the difference between primary and secondary sources. If you want an expert to review your writing, including reference lists and bibliographies, our proofreaders are just a few clicks away. You can even send us 500 words to proofread for free.

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