Q. What is the difference between a primary source and a secondary source?
Definitions of primary and secondary sources in different disciplines
You might hear that you have to find a primary or secondary source in a class, but what is the difference? Depending on the class, they mean slightly different things, but the gist is usually the same.
Primary sources are usually created during the time referenced in the study/report/news, and serve as a source of original evidence, often one that documents events, time periods, ideas, people, or observations that are ongoing at the time of publication.
- For history, this might be a manuscript, a photograph, or a historic newspaper.
- For literature, this might be a novel, poem, short story, or play.
- For life or social sciences, this might be a research study that includes original observations or datasets.
- And so on!
Secondary Sources are usually commentary on primary (or other secondary) sources. They often interpret or synthesize several sources together to explain, create, or analyze new ideas. Secondary sources can also contain primary sources within them!
- For the sciences, this could be a review of the literature or a meta-analysis. It could also be an article that presents new ideas without conducting original research.
- For humanities, this could be an article, a book, a book chapter, or a review of other primary and secondary sources.
If you have to find a primary or secondary source, and aren't sure if what you have counts, please don't hesitate to call or talk to us!