Primary sources are the raw, or original, records created by participants in firsthand events, and they are not interpretations of events made after the fact by others. Primary sources are considered “firsthand” and can include materials created many years ago.

In this article, we will discuss the two types of sources; Primary and Secondary sources, their importance, and their uses.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is a document or other material that provides first-hand information about its subject. Primary sources are the raw materials of history as they are original documents and objects which were created at the time of the event being studied.

Primary sources are used as evidence for answering questions about the past. They can include diaries, letters, speeches, photographs, newspaper articles, government records, poems, novels, plays, and music and they may be in print or digital format.

They are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation. Often they are created during the time period which is being studied, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.

Read: What is Pure or Basic Research? + [Examples & Method]

A primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation or a document created by such a person. For example, if you were researching the history of women’s suffrage in the United States, Susan B. Anthony’s diary would be considered a primary source. 

On the other hand, a history textbook written about Susan B. Anthony would be considered a secondary source because the information has already been interpreted and evaluated by the author of the textbook. This information is critical because it helps us to answer what did people actually think and how did they act.

By understanding these first-hand accounts of past events, we get more in-depth details about historical periods.

What is a Secondary Source?

A secondary source is one that was written after an event or development has occurred. Secondary sources may be based on primary sources and will often analyze, interpret, or comment on a historical event. This means that a secondary source is a work that provides information about the primary source, but it does not have first-hand information. 

For example, a biography written about Marie Curie would be considered a secondary source because it includes information about her life, but it was not written by her or anyone who knew her directly. Secondary sources are useful in providing background information to help people better understand a topic and are usually academic works like articles, books, and encyclopedias that seek to summarize existing research on a topic.

Read: Research Questions: Definitions, Types + [Examples]

How to Tell if a Source is Primary or Secondary

The best way to differentiate between primary and secondary sources is that primary sources are first-hand accounts, while secondary sources are second-hand accounts.

For example, a person who writes about their own experiences with an illness is a primary source, because the person is the one describing what happened. If another author writes a book about the symptoms of an illness from the perspective of an outsider, that’s a secondary source.

This is why it is important for primary sources to be taken carefully because sometimes, people tend to embellish or distort their own experiences. Secondary sources need to be taken carefully as well because it’s easy for an outsider to get something wrong about someone else’s experiences; for example, the author of a secondary source might misinterpret symptoms or misunderstand the way something worked.

What are the Similarities between Primary and Secondary Sources?

Here are some of the similarities between primary and secondary sources:

  • They are both sources of information. 
  • They are both generally written by experts who know what they’re talking about, so you can trust the information you find in them.
  • Both are works of art, written works, or other creative works
  • Primary and secondary sources are used for research
  • Also, both primary and secondary sources are referenced in researches

Read: Research Bias: Definition, Types + Examples

Differences between Primary and Secondary Sources

  1. The main difference is that a primary source is an original document or firsthand account while a secondary source is a second-hand account of information. A primary source is not an original document, but something that was written at the time of the event. A secondary source is an interpretation of the primary source.
  2. Primary sources are based on actual occurrence or event while secondary sources are based on analysis, criticism, or evaluation of an event.
  3. Primary sources include the provision of evidence which could be the recording of the event while secondary sources on the other hand analyze the evidence from the primary sources. 

For example, a book about Martin Luther King Jr would be a secondary source because it was not written by him. The book would be based on interviews with people who knew him, letters he wrote, and speeches he gave. It could also include newspaper articles from the time period when he was alive.

However, the first thing to remember when researching for any research paper or essay is: you must use primary sources!

Read: Unethical Research Practices to Avoid: Examples & Detection

What is an example of a Primary Source?

There are many different kinds of primary sources depending on their original purpose and format. All types of primary sources provide information about a particular event or time period. For example:

  • Diaries, letters, and memoirs: personal accounts of historical events from people who witnessed them firsthand
  • Speeches and interviews: words spoken by people involved in an event or issue
  • Newspaper articles from the time period when the event occurred
  • Photographs depicting an event
  • Government records documenting an event
  • Paintings, songs, and literature created during a particular era

What is an example of a Secondary Source?

A secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. A secondary source contrasts with a primary source, which is an original source of the information being discussed. Here are examples:

  • Books such as novels, plays, poems, etc. written by someone else
  • Articles that comment on or evaluate someone else’s original research
  • History books and other popular or scholarly books that summarize and interpret the work of historians and other experts
  • Reviews of research in the form of articles published in academic journals

What Do You Use Primary Sources for?

Primary sources are used to provide a closer look at what actually happened during an event or period of time because they were written when it was actually happening, not later when people were trying to remember and write about it. They give a closer look into what people thought and wrote about during a period of time.

Historians use primary sources to understand the past. They look at these documents to get as close as possible to what happened during a certain historical event. Historians and researchers can get a better idea of how people lived in the past and what they thought was important enough to record

For example, if you’re writing about the founding of your city, it might be helpful for you to find a newspaper article written on the day the city was founded. You could also find a picture taken on that day of people celebrating the founding of your city.

Read: Survey Research: Types, Examples & Methods

What Do You Use Secondary Sources For?

Secondary sources are used in research as a way to add context to primary sources. They can help you find information quickly. A quick Google search for “themes in The Great Gatsby” will return plenty of articles that discuss those themes and can help you get started with your research.

Secondary sources are also helpful when you want to understand how other people interpret and analyze something. As your research progresses, you may want to see what others have said about the thing you’re studying in order to form your own opinions on it and write your own analysis.

Finally, secondary sources are important because they provide context for primary sources: another name for original works like documents, books, or artworks. For example, a biography about Abraham Lincoln would be a primary source because it was written by someone who knew him personally. An article about Lincoln’s life and legacy would be a secondary source because it was written after his demise. 


Both primary and secondary sources are useful in research and journaling. The important thing to note is that it is always desirable to use primary sources when available and if otherwise, you can make use of the secondary sources. Also do not forget to reference any source you use whether it is the primary or secondary source.

  • busayo.longe
  • on 7 min read


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