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LS 102 Course Materials

Introduction to Information Research

Primary v. Secondary Sources

A primary source is any work that offers ORIGINAL intellectual content: artistic works, diaries, newpaper reports witnessed by a participant from the time of the event, memoirs, speeches, government reports & statistics, artifacts.

Primary sources generally serve as foundation material for a particular subject area. They are the result of someone doing primary research, which involves collecting raw data. Primary sources allow researchers to analyze the data or object for themselves in order to come up with alternate theories and opinions.

Secondary sources interpret and analyze primary sources. In other words, when a writer looks at a primary document, and produces a work that tries to make sense of what he or she finds, the result is a secondary study or secondary source.

There is a third type of source, called a tertiary source. Tertiary sources repackage the information provided by the other two types of sources. Examples would be dictionaries or encyclopedias that summarize or abstract information, and present it in an easy to interpret format.

Adapted from:
Kirszner, Laurie G. The Holt Handbook. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2002.


Primary Source

Secondary Sources

Novel, poem

Literary criticism

Diary, autobiography


Letters, historical documents, oral testimony

Historical Commentary

Newspaper report


Raw data from questionnaires

Social Science Article


Scientific article

Television show/film



Case study