Primary and secondary sources

Primary sources

Primary sources provide a first hand account of an event or time period. Often these sources were created at the time the events occurred but they can also include autobiographies, memoirs or oral histories that were recorded later.
Use search terms such as:

  • diary
  • biography
  • autobiography
  • correspondence
  • interview
  • manuscript
  • speech
  • oral history
  • government document

Secondary sources

Secondary sources offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources and involve generalisation, synthesis, interpretation, commentary or evaluation.
Some secondary sources not only analyse primary sources, but use them to argue a point or to persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion.
Examples of secondary sources include:

  • dictionaries
  • encyclopaedias
  • textbooks
  • books and articles that interpret or review research works
  • biographies
  • dissertations

How to find primary and secondary sources

  • search via Library Search to find print or online sources
  • search databases for online sources
  • find newspapers on microfilm, online or in print

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