Primary and secondary sources

Information sources can be regarded as primary or secondary depending on their:

  • originality, and
  • closeness to the source or event.

Primary sources

Primary sources come directly from the source or person. They are original materials, not filtered through explanation. Examples include:

  • statistics, interviews and surveys
  • autobiographies, diaries and original writing
  • empirical journal articles
  • books (when reporting original research or ideas)
  • newspaper articles (when written at the time of an event)
  • photographs, music and artwork
  • statutes and law reports.

Secondary sources

Secondary sources analyse, interpret and comment on primary information. Examples include:

  • journal articles (when summarising the findings of others)
  • books (when giving a topic overview or summary)
  • newspaper articles (when offering commentary or opinions)
  • literature reviews
  • encyclopaedias.

Most scholarly research is based on primary sources because it generates more accurate and efficient research.

Primary and secondary sources may have different meanings across disciplines. For example, in legal research, primary sources are caselaw and legislation. If in doubt, check with your tutor.