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Library Information Guide - Fort Wayne

Primary and Secondary Sources

The terms primary (first hand) and secondary (second hand) refer to the degree to which the author of the material experienced the event being described.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are written by someone who personally experienced or witnessed the event or information being described. These original documents are not about another document or account, nor are they an interpretation of another source. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources.  They are not direct evidence, but commentary and discussion of evidence. Secondary source materials interpret and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. 


Is My Source Primary or Secondary?

When evaluating primary or secondary sources, determine how the author knows the details being described.

  • Was the author present at the event, or are the author’s conclusions based on evidence from many different sources?
    • If the author is speaking from personal experience, it’s a primary source.
    • If the author’s knowledge is based on reports written by others, it’s a secondary source.

Here are some examples:

Primary Sources

  • Autobiographies, diaries, or memoirs
  • Letters
  • Collections of documents, or original copies
  • Recordings of speeches
  • News articles or film footage
  • Creative works
  • Relics or artifacts
  • Articles reporting NEW research

Secondary Sources

  • Textbooks
  • History or research books
  • Critical or commentary works
  • Reviews
  • Magazine articles based on others' findings
  • Journal articles which review or revisit previous research
  • Interpretations

Where Can I Find Primary sources?

Library Resources

Additional Resources

You can also find primary sources through a variety of websites. Check out Primary Sources on our History LibGuide to find out more!

Looking for scientific primary sources? Visit this handy guide

Primary Sources in Science

When working in science and medical research, primary sources are a little different from what you look for in other fields. You'll want to find original research, where the authors actually did the tests, experiments, or observations themselves. The easiest way to find these types of resources is to filter your results by Publication Type, Methodology, and/or Document Type. Here are some things to look for:

  • Case Study/Report
  • Clinical Trial/Study/Report
  • Observational Study
  • Empirical Research/Study/Report
  • Field Study

Where can I find scientific primary sources?