Created by Vija G. Mendelson
WHAT IS A PRIMARY SOURCE?
A source that comes from the same person or organization who created, participated in, or witnessed something. For example, if you take a picture, that is a primary source.
Some sources are difficult to label as "primary:"
WHY USE PRIMARY SOURCES?
It is important to get as close as you can to the original event or source so you can observe and analyze without others' views clouding yours. We have all attended events and read about it later and said, "That's not how it was." It's the same with using primary sources. They help you form you own opinions and explanations. This will also greatly help you when you read secondary sources, both because you will have a clearer idea of what is being analyzed but also you can see more clearly where you agree or disagree.
WHAT IS A SECONDARY SOURCE?
A source that comments on or analyzes something, not written by someone directly involved. For example, a book review - the book is a primary source and the review of the book is a secondary source. Or - if you take a picture of something and post it to social media, that is a primary source - if your friends comment on the picture, their comments are a secondary source.
Secondary sources are often based on studying primary ones. Student research papers are secondary sources.
You can often find excerpts of primary sources within secondary ones, such as a long quotation in a biography.
Excerpt of letter from Helen Keller to Alexander Graham Bell, 1907
A biography of Helen Keller.