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Primary Sources: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Finding Sources

Many primary sources are unique and can only be found in a single library, museum, or archival collection. Some have been digitized and are available freely on the web. See the tabs above for tips on finding primary and secondary sources.

Primary & Secondary Sources Defined

A primary source is a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. Primary sources are created contemporaneously with the topic they describe. Examples include original manuscripts, articles reporting original research or thought, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals, photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, songs, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, artifacts, and newspaper clippings.

A secondary source is any work that is one step removed from the original source. Secondary sources are created after the fact. Secondary sources describe, summarize, analyze, evaluate, or are derived from or based on primary sources. Examples include reviews, critical analyses, second-person accounts, and biographical and historical studies.*

*Adapted from the entries in the Dictionary for Library and Information Science. By Joan M. Reitz. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004.


Subject Guide

Sarah Mollette's picture
Sarah Mollette
Camden-Carroll Library 208
Morehead State University
150 University Blvd.
Morehead, KY 40351
Subjects:Art, English