A primary source is an original object or document -- the raw material or first-hand information, source material that is closest to what is being studied.
Primary sources vary by discipline and can include historical and legal documents, eye witness accounts, results of an experiment, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and art objects. In the natural and social sciences, the results of an experiment or study are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences, so those articles and papers that present the original results are considered primary sources.
A secondary source is something written about a primary source. Secondary sources include comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the original material. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research.
A tertiary source is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources.
|Art and Architecture||Painting by Manet||Article critiquing art piece|
|Chemistry/Life Sciences||Einstein's diary||Bookon Einstein's life|
|Engineering/Physical Sciences||Patent||NTIS database|
|Humanities||Letters by Martin Luther King||Web site on King's writings|
|Social Sciences||Notes taken by clinical psychologist||Magazine article about the psychological condition|
|Performing Arts||Movie filmed in 1942||Biography of the director|
This video tutorial from the Hartness Library on You Tube offers some good illustrations of the difference between primary and secondary sources. It also includes an overview of how primary and secondary sources can vary based on a research topic.
To view chat hours, submit an e-mail question, or view other contact options, please visit the Ask a Librarian webpage.
Are your searches not yielding the results you expected? Are you having trouble finding the information you need? You may schedule a private consultation with a librarian to obtain assistance with developing strategies for your research.