Where can I find primary and secondary sources? What's the difference?

  • A primary source is information in its original form.
    • It has not been previously published, interpreted or translated.


  • Primary sources can include:
    • people (an eyewitness who gives you an account of an event)
    • newspaper articles (an account of an event by a reporter on the scene)
    • letters and e-mails
    • diaries
    • speeches
    • interviews
    • documents such as treaties or laws
    • artifacts (appliances, clothing, toys, tools)
    • photographs
    • video or audio recordings
    • laboratory and field reports
    • raw data that has been collected but not analyzed
    • surveys/public opinion polls  
    • works of art and literature Secondary sources are "once-removed,"
      • providing analysis, interpretation and/or evaluation.


  • Secondary sources are often based on primary sources.
  • If you look at the bibliography or works cited list in a secondary source, you will see among the entries, some primary sources that the author used to create the article or book.  
  • Secondary sources include:
    • most books • most magazine/journal articles
    • reviews (of plays, films, museum showings, etc.)
    • literary criticism
    • editorials


  • Secondary sources are relatively easy to find
    • just use the library's catalog (for books) and periodical databases for articles.  
    • The most efficient way to find primary sources is to ask a librarian.  
    • The library has some primary sources in the reference collection and librarians can help you find others on the web.


  • If you are researching American history the Library of Congress's American Memory collection is good place to start.  
  • It contains many treaties, laws, maps, photographs, speeches and letters.    
  • Who can help me with this?
    • Your instructors and the Reference Librarians (Bldg7) are the campus experts.  
    • Call 253.566.5134 during open hours.


Article ID: 33645
Wed 7/19/17 7:37 PM
Wed 8/14/19 12:49 PM