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VVC Library: Primary vs Secondary Sources

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Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary and secondary sources are different types of information that you can use in your research.  The type of resources you will need for your projects or research papers will depend on the type of class or research that is required

Primary Sources

Primary sources are materials created at the time or specific era or event that is being researched or studied. These sources are directly related to a subject or topic by time or by a person's or material's direct involvement from the era. A primary source provides a first-hand account about a person or an event because they were written or made in the time period they are from, but can also include later recollections from a participant involved in an event (i.e. autobiographies, interviews, oral histories). The Library of Congress and National Archives provide many digitized versions of primary sources related to some of the examples found below. You may also find a few primary sources as well in the Local History room of the Library.* 

EXAMPLES: 

  • Historic Objects                                                                Photographs   
  • Laws or Statutes                                                                       Original Empirical Research                                            
  • Raw Data                                                                         Autobiographies        
  • Letters/Diaries/Original Correspondence                         Music from the era
  • Newspapers from the era                                                Manuscript Collections
  • Government Records                                                               Original Film Footage
  • Original Artwork from the era                                           Interviews/Oral Histories                          
  • Speeches                                                                        Archives

*Note: To use the Local History room, please check for available hours and appointment times. 

HELPFUL WEBSITES:

Below are some links to a few websites students may find useful in locating primary sources. 

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources provide useful and important background information about a topic. These sources are not written or made in the time period they are describing. Secondary sources can include books or articles published by an author or writer who makes an interpretation about an event or topic based upon other primary sources. Secondary sources include most books, encyclopedias, documentaries, websites, and academic journals. The works cited pages, footnotes, and bibliographies of secondary sources can lead you to primary sources as well. You can use the library catalog, databases, and reference books to find secondary sources. Books found in the catalog that you can check out are located downstairs in the STACKS. Reference books are located upstairs and cannot be checked out. 

EXAMPLES:

  • Academic Journals/Articles                                  •  Books about the topic
  • Biographies                                                          •  Reviews
  • Textbooks                                                             •  Criticism
  • Websites                                                               •  Documentaries
  • Bibliographies                                                       •  Abstracts 
  • Interviews with Scholars or Experts                         •  Articles about the topic
  • Encyclopedias*                                                     •  Reference Books*

 

*Note: Reference books and encyclopedias can refer you back to primary sources. Reference books and encyclopedias can also be considered tertiary sources. Please refer to your professor on whether or not you can use these sources in your research. 

HELPFUL WEBSITES:

Below are some links to a few websites students may find useful in locating secondary sources outside of the library catalog and databases. 

What Else?

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources compile information from primary and secondary sources. These are sources that index, abstract, organize or compile other sources together. Some sources can be considered both secondary and/or tertiary (e.g. encyclopedias, some dictionaries, textbooks, bibliographies). A source like one of the listed examples is considered tertiary instead of secondary when the main purpose of the source is to list, summarize, or reuse ideas/information instead of using primary sources and providing detailed background information to make an interpretation about an event/person/topic.

EXAMPLES:

  • Bibliographies       
  • Abstracts         
  • Almanacs   
  • Dictionaries*   
  • Handbooks  
  • Fact Books     
  • Indexes
  • Encyclopedias*
  • Directories 
  • Chronologies 
  • Textbooks* 
  • Manuals

*Note: Can be considered secondary sources, depending upon the information presented in these sources. Ask your professor if you are allowed to use these sources in your research.