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Primary Sources: Home

Primary Sources

Primary sources contain firsthand evidence of events, usually recorded by someone who participated in, witnessed, or lived through the event. 

A primary source is an original document or account that stands on its own published either in paper or electronic formats. Primary Sources can also be qualitative or quantitative data and researchPrimary sources are used to prepare secondary sources.

Below is a ist of some commonly considered primary sources: 

  • Diaries, letters, personal papers, memoirs, and autobiographies
  • Speeches, interviews, conversations- recorded as audio or captured in videos, or transcripts
  • Artistic or creative works such as a poem or a literary piece, painting, sculpture, musical score
  • Photographs, images, video footage or television advertisements
  • Original research (or scholarly) articles that present research on a single research question or topic (not a review article or meta-analysis)
  • Blogs, e-mails, and Twitter feeds
  • Newspaper accounts
  • Maps
  • Government documents, statistics, and published or raw data
  • Court cases, legal decisions, statutes, case laws, by-laws, and administrative rulings
  • Opinion polls and surveys

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources typically offer an analysis or interpretation or evaluation of information gathered from primary sources.  Secondary sources can also provide background information and analysis of an event or work, and offer a historical perspective based on other events that have taken place since the original event or work.

Below is a list of some common secondary sources:

  • Biographies and documentaries
  • Editorials
  • Journal articles that analyze or summarize other original research articles, sometimes called "review articles" or "meta-analysis"
  • Magazine or review articles providing analysis, interpretations, or product reviews
  • Dictionaries, handbooks, and encyclopedias
  • Literary criticism, thesis, or dissertations
  • Indexes and bibliographies- used to locate a secondary source
  • Newspaper accounts that report different sources of information

Searching for Primary Sources

Both primary and secondary sources are important.  Do not prefer one over the other.  Each discipline has its own set of standards for what counts as a primary source. Ask your professor when in doubt.

Ask the MC Library

Germantown Campus Library Rockville Campus Library Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus Library

Humanities and Social Sciences Building 110


Macklin Tower


Resource Center 215