Primary vs. Secondary Sources

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A high-quality research project involves the use and analyzation of other, outside sources, and connecting them to the thesis or argument. These other sources are generally primary and secondary sources. There are numerous places to find both types of sources and there are benefits to including both in a research assignment.

View the video at this link.

Primary sources are original pieces of work. We use primary sources to help us learn about an event, topic, or historical time period. Primary sources include:

  • letters
  • diary entries
  • original photographs
  • reports
  • speeches
  • surveys
  • newspaper articles that are published directly after an event
  • artwork
  • performances
  • ….and many more

Primary sources require students to develop their own analysis and argument since the primary source doesn’t include an evaluation from others.

An example of a primary source is The Treaty of Versailles, which was an important document that brought World War I to an end. It is considered a primary source because it is a raw document that students themselves can interpret, critique, and analyze. Other examples of primary sources include Anne Frank’s Diary, The Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have a Dream speech, and Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa painting.

Secondary sources interpret, critique, or analyze primary sources. Creators of secondary sources look at primary sources, develop meaning from them, and create their own analysis of the primary source. Secondary sources can include:

  • reviews
  • essays
  • newspaper articles that analyze or discuss older events/ideas
  • comments on blogs and articles
  • textbooks

Students should include secondary sources in their research projects as these sources provide evidence to strengthen their own argument and helps them learn about different perspectives.

An example of a secondary source is the book titled, The Treaty of Versaille: A Concise History, by Michael S. Neiberg. In this book, the author analyzes the entire treaty, piece by piece, and evaluates how the treaty affected the world after its establishment. Another example of a secondary source is the website, Rotten Tomatoes, which provides reviews of films and movies.

This video, Primary and Secondary Sources, provides students with

  • an introduction to both terms and what they mean
  • examples of each source type
  • reasons as to why it’s important to use both types of sources in research projects

Share this video with your students to help them understand the difference between these two types of sources and the reasons as to why they should be used in their research assignments.

Need help citing your primary and secondary sources? Check out which allows you to cite your sources, using our automatic citation generator. Our MLA format citation guide and APA citation guide both explain how to manually format and cite all of your primary and secondary sources.

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