What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?


Primary sources:

  • Are original documents (i.e., they are not about another document)
  • Present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information, like research.
  • Examples include diaries, letters, speeches, photographs, interviews and original research published in a journal. 
  • See an example in the video below

Secondary sources:

  • Describe, discuss, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and summarize primary sources.
  • Comment on and discuss evidence that was previously published.
  • Books/textbooks, encyclopedias, magazine articles, or journal articles that evaluates someone else's original research.
  • See an example in the video below

Note: If you find an article and want to cite information that has been cited in the article you are reading, you should track down the article that was cited (the primary source) in the one you are reading (the secondary source).  If you cannot find the original article (the primary source), you must cite the secondary source appropriately so that the author of the primary source still gets credit. How do I cite information found within the text that is already cited by the author of the book I was reading?

Watch the video below for more information, including examples of a primary journal article and a secondary journal article.


  • Last Updated Jan 31, 2022
  • Views 12647
  • Answered By Ashley Fyvie, Librarian

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