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Research Skills: Step-By-Step: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This guide will help you to develop your research skills and better understand the research process.

What's my Source?

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source.

By doing so, you will be able recognise 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 people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents


  • 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 catalogue

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Source: Imagine Easy Solutions. (2014, June 2). Understanding primary & secondary sources [video]. YouTube.


To find primary sources try adding one of the keywords below to your search strings:

  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches

Image Source: OpenClipart. (2013, October 9.) Tip icon [image]. Pixabay.