Primary sources are records of events as they are first described, usually by witnesses or people who were involved in the event. Many primary sources were created at the time of the event but can also include memoirs, oral interviews, or accounts that were recorded later.
Visual materials, such as photos, original artwork, posters, and films are important primary sources, not only for the factual information they contain, but also for the insight they may provide into how people view their world. Primary sources may also include sets of data, such as census statistics, which have been tabulated but not interpreted. However, in the sciences or social sciences, primary sources report the results of an experiment.
Secondary sources offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources. Some secondary sources not only analyze primary sources, but also use them to argue a contention or persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion. Examples of secondary sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, books, and articles that interpret, analyze, or review research works.
|Subject Examples||Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|Art||original artwork||article critiquing the piece of art|
|Literature||poem||book or article on a particular genre of poetry|
|Political Science||treaty||essay on Native American land rights|
|Science or Social Sciences||report of an original experiment||review of several studies on the same topic|
|Theater||video of a performance||biography of a playwright|
While primary sources are often desirable for the raw, non-interpreted information they provide, it is important to analyze them for your research. Ask yourself these questions:
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