Question

What's the difference between Primary and Secondary sources of information?


Answer

For some research projects you may be required to use Primary sources. How can you identify these?

 

Primary Sources

A Primary source provides direct or first-hand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art; they are not about another document or accountPrimary sources include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of experiments, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, audio and video recordings, speeches, and art objects. Interviews, surveys, fieldwork, and Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups are also primary sources. In the natural and social sciences, primary sources are often from empirical studies—research where an experiment was performed or a direct observation was made. The results of empirical studies are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences.

 

Secondary Sources

The function of Secondary sources is to describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research.

 

Defining questions

When evaluating primary or secondary sources, the following questions might be asked to help ascertain the nature and value of material being considered:

  • How does the author know these details (names, dates, times)? 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 (e.g., diary entries, along with third-party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts)?

Ultimately, all source materials of whatever type must be assessed critically and even the most scrupulous and thorough work is viewed through the eyes of the writer/interpreter. This must be taken into account when one is attempting to arrive at the 'truth' of an event.

 

References and further information:

http://ithacalibrary.com/sp/subjects/primary

https://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html

http://ithacalibrary.com/sp/subjects/primary​

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