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How to Do Research: A Step-By-Step Guide: 3b. Primary vs. Secondary

How to do research

Source Types

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Source Type Examples

 A first-person account by someone who  experienced or witnessed an event. The  original document has not been  previously published or interpreted by  anyone else.

  • First-person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights

 One step removed from the primary  original source. The author is  reexamining, interpreting and forming  conclusions based on the information  conveyed in the primary source.


  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

 Further removed from a primary source.  It leads the researcher to a secondary  source, rather than to the primary  source.


  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog



Search the Library Search tool on the library home page to find primary source material for your topic. Try adding one of the keywords below:

  • artwork
  • charters
  • correspondence
  • data/statistics
  • diaries/journals
  • documents
  • interviews
  • laws
  • letters
  • maps
  • manuscripts
  • memoirs/autobiographies
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches

NOTE: EBSCOhost's Academic Search Complete database has a limiter for searching for Primary Source Documents. Go to Advanced Search and select it from the list of Publication Types. Also, the Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 database contains primary documents in U.S. women's history.  The Library's ebook collection includes some primary source titles.