This is the "Primary vs. Secondary Sources" page of the "Primary Sources" guide.
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Primary Sources  

Learn about locating and using Primary Source documents
Last Updated: Jan 9, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Primary vs. Secondary Sources Print Page

Source Types

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples
A first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. If it is a document, the original  has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.

    Original Documents (including excerpts and

  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Films
  • Sound recordings
  • Interviews
  • First person account of an event
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • Diaries
  • Memoirs
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
  • Government records

     Relics or artifacts could include:

  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Buildings and structures
  • Pottery
  • Government records


One step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information conveyed in the primary source.

  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

Further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Posted with permission from the Univ. of California San Diego Libraries.


Is It a Primary Source or Not?

How can you be sure you're using a primary source?
Sometimes it's hard to figure out whether something is a primary or secondary source. For help deciding, visit this useful website from Yale University.



Search the Library Catalog to find primary source material for your topic. Try adding one of the keywords below:

  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches

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