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Primary vs. Secondary Sources Library Workshop: Home

Lecture, Quiz, and Notes

Welcome to the Primary vs. Secondary Library Workshop! 

In order to get the most out of this workshop you should watch the video, review the notes, and then take the quiz.  There are additional materials listed below directing you to primary and secondary sources in our Archives and Special Collections, the Marist Library, and beyond.  These materials will be useful to refer back to as you start working on papers and final projects for your class.

The below PDF includes a quick overview of the main points of this Primary and Secondary Sources video.

Resources - Primary Sources

Resources - Secondary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it. Primary sources can include:

  • Texts of laws and other original documents
  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did
  • Speeches, diaries, letters and interviews - what the people involved said or wrote
  • Original research
  • Datasets, survey data, such as census or economic statistics
  • Photographs, video, or audio that capture an event

Specific examples of Primary Sources include:

  • Diaries
  • Journals
  • Autobiographies
  • Speeches
  • Government Records
  • Oral Histories
  • Work of Art
  • Photographs
  • Sound Recordings
  • Correspondence (e.g. letters, emails, texts, etc.)

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are one step removed from primary sources, though they often quote or otherwise use primary sources. They can cover the same topic, but add a layer of interpretation and analysis. Secondary sources can include:

  • Most books about a topic
  • Analysis or interpretation of data
  • Scholarly or other articles about a topic, especially by people not directly involved
  • Documentaries (though they often include photos or video portions that can be considered primary sources)

Examples of Secondary Sources include:

  • Bibliographies
  • Reference books, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, and atlases
  • Articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers after the event
  • Literature reviews and review articles (e.g., movie reviews, book reviews)
  • History books and other popular or scholarly books
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Commentaries and treatises
  • Textbooks
  • Indexes and abstracts

Could it be both primary and secondary?

It all depends on how you use it.

Newspaper and magazine articles can be a primary or secondary source. o If the article was written at the time something happened, then it is a primary source.

  • For example, the many articles written on Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 are primary sources.
  • However, if a reporter in 2009 wrote about George Washington’s inauguration using information written by someone else in 1789, that would be a secondary source.

Here's another example.  If you are researching English playwrights, a Shakespeare play would be considered a secondary source. However, if you study Shakespeare’s plays to try to glean information about his life for a biography, you could argue his plays are primary sources.

And here's a final example.  A biology textbook would be considered a secondary source if it's used in the field of biology, since it describes and interprets the science, but makes no original contribution to it.

On the other hand, if the topic is science education and the history of textbooks, textbooks could be used a primary sources to look at how they have changed over time.

Subject Guide

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John Ansley
Office Phone: 845-575-5217

For immediate assistance regarding Archival research, contact the Archives and Special Collections at 845-575-3364. For questions concerning Library research, contact the Reference Desk at 845-575-3292 or email

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