Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Kati Tvaruzka, Assistant Professor
Education Librarian
McIntyre Library, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
[email protected]
• Among the visuals used in your
presentation, you must include at least
TWO primary sources.
• They must be directly related to your
• Complete the “Primary Sources
Assignment” found on the website
under “Handouts.”
Primary Sources
• Accounts of an event written by the
person who witnessed or experienced it
• Original Documents, Unpublished –
not about another document or account
• Published works - as long as they are
written soon after the fact and not as
historical accounts
Primary Sources
• Diaries
• Letters
• Memoirs
• Journals
• Speeches
• Manuscripts
• Statistical
• Interviews
• Photographs
• Audio or video
• Research reports
(natural or social
• Original literary or
theatrical works
Secondary Sources
• Interpret primary sources - at least
one step removed from the event or
phenomenon under review
• Examination of studies that other
researchers have made of a subject
• Second Hand - conveys the
experiences and opinions of others
Secondary Sources
• Usually in the form of published works
• Journal articles
• Books
• Radio and TV documentaries
How do you know?
• Ask yourself some questions:
• How does the author know these details?
• Was the author present at the event or soon on
the scene?
 Where does this information come from—personal
experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports
written by others?
 Are the author's conclusions based on a single
piece of evidence, or have many sources been
taken into account?
1. Primary sources are written by
a)People who experienced the event first-hand.
b)People who have studied the event after the
2. Secondary sources are written by
a)People who were eyewitnesses to the event.
b)People who have done extensive research
about the event.
For more information…
• Library Research: Finding Primary Sources. Berkeley: Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
• Research Skills Tutorial: Primary Research. Toronto: Gerstein
Science Information Centre.
• Primary and Secondary Sources. Ithaca College.
3. Primary sources are
a. the most important sources
b. the evidence left behind by participants
c. the first sources that a researcher should
d. sources written by the most important
e. sources referred to in lectures
4. Which of the following is NOT a
primary source:
memoirs and autobiographies
minutes from an organization or agency
an encyclopedia
5. Understanding the difference between primary
and secondary sources is important because
a. different types of sources provide different
kinds of information
b. sometimes a primary source has a greater
impact in a paper than a secondary source.
c. primary and secondary sources can each
provide different points of view on the
same topic.
d. all of the above
Primary or Secondary?
6. Charles Darwin’s book on evolution,
The Origin of the Species.
Primary or Secondary?
7. Barbara Walter’s 2001 interview with
George W. Bush regarding his
impending inauguration.
Primary or Secondary?
8. The autobiography of John Scopes,
the biology teacher who was tried and
convicted in 1925 for teaching the
theory of evolution in a Tennessee
public school.
Primary or Secondary?
A Civil War soldier’s diary
Primary or Secondary?
10. An interview with a survivor from the
Primary or Secondary?
11. A book by an astronomer providing
precise experimental data illustrating
that the universe began with a “Big
Primary or Secondary?
12. Abraham Lincoln’s Dec. 26, 1864
letter to General Sherman
congratulating him on his military
capture of Savannah several days
Primary or Secondary?
13. A biography of the marriage between
Princess Diana and Prince Charles
Primary or Secondary?
14. An online journal article about the
historical significance of Abraham
Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”
Primary or Secondary?
15. Excerpts from the Declaration of
Primary or Secondary?
16. A book by a journalist that highlights
the major historic events of the 19th
Primary or Secondary?
17. A survey you conducted to see if the
majority of students commute to school

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