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UGS 302 The Art of Science Communication (Osier)

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Primary sources are created by the person or people who performed or witnessed the described action. These include:

  • (In humanities or social sciences) Historical documents describing witness accounts of an event or time period. For example, a diary written by a young French woman living through Revolutionary France is an example of a primary source *for the time period in which the diary author was living*. If in her diary the young woman describes her knowledge of Ancient Rome, her description is *not* a primary source for your paper on Ancient Rome. However, her description of her knowledge of Ancient Rome is a primary source for your paper on education levels of woman in Revolutionary France.
  • (In sciences) Articles in which the author(s) describe their own experiments, data gathering, etc. An article in which the author describes their interviews with first year university students about their experiences living in a dorm and the conclusions they derived from those interviews is a primary source. An article in which the author summarizes other researchers' work with first year students is not a primary source.

Secondary sources are created by people who did not directly witness or perform the actions they are describing. They include:

  • (In humanities and social sciences) Textbooks written by researchers who have analyzed primary sources, analyses of historical texts, literature reviews, etc.
  • (In sciences) Analyses of data gathered by other researchers, comparison studies between different sets of data, literature reviews, etc.

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