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Video: Primary vs. Secondary Research

Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often empirical studies—research where an experiment was performed or a direct observation was made. The results of empirical studies are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

Primary Source

Secondary Source

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address "Lincoln at Gettysburg: the Words That Remade America" by Gary Wills 
The poem "Human Chain" by Seamus Heaney "His Nibs: Self-Reflexivity and the Significance of Translation in Seamus Heaney's Human Chain." by Michael Parker in Irish University Review (November 2012), pp. 327-350.
The table "Number of Offenses Known to the Police, Universities and Colleges" in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, 2012 An article in the Ithacan entitled "Study Finds Eastern Colleges Often Conceal Campus Crime"
Mackey, S., Carroll, I., Emir, B., Murphy, T., Whalen, E., & Dumenci, L. (2012). Sensory pain qualities in neuropathic pain. The Journal Of Pain, 13(1), 58-63. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2011.10.002
[a study published in a peer reviewed journal]
Vance, E. (2014). Where Does It Hurt?. Discover, 35(4), 28-30.
[an article in a magazine that includes quotes from Sean Mackey, author of the peer reviewed article on pain]
Cynthia Scheibe's doctoral dissertation on the developmental differences in children's reasoning about Santa Claus An article in Parents Magazine discussing experts' views on the harm of lying to children about Santa Claus


Image result for scholarly articlesJournals, magazines, and newspapers are serial publications that are published on an ongoing basis.

Many scholarly journals in the sciences and social sciences include primary source articles where the authors report on research they have undertaken. Consequently, these papers may use the first person ("We observed…"). These articles usually follow a standard format with sections like "Methods," "Results," and "Conclusion."

In the humanities, age is an important factor in determining whether an article is a primary or secondary source. A recently-published journal or newspaper article on the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case would be read as a secondary source, because the author is interpreting an historical event. An article on the case that was published in 1955 could be read as a primary source that reveals how writers were interpreting the decision immediately after it was handed down.

Serials may also include book reviews, editorials, and review articles. Review articles summarize research on a particular topic, but they do not present any new findings; therefore, they are considered secondary sources. Their bibliographies, however, can be used to identify primary sources.


Image result for primary and secondary sources


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Tertiary Sources


Report of original research, discoveries, ideas, etc. Interpretations, commentary, or evaluations of primary sources. They synthesize the primary (and sometimes other secondary) sources. Collections of primary and/or secondary sources. Little to no commentary on the works themselves, but discovery is based on various search strategies.


research articles in journals, dissertations, patents, conference papers (may vary by discipline) review articles, books/textbooks, encyclopedias databases, catalogs, search engines


Article about a new, greener, and less expensive method to produce polylactic acid (PLA) for 3D printing. Article on recent developments in PLA applications or book about biodegradable plastics. Web of Science, Academic Search Complete, Google Scholar, and Library Catalog.




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