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CI 5328/3338: Social Studies: Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources

Research Sources

Using Texas State Libraries for research you will come upon a large number of resources and several different types of resources. The boxes below will help explain those different types and when best to use a primary source versus a secondary source versus a tertiary source.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the first hand observations of an event, whether that be a historical occasion or a scientific experience, or an original work of art or literature.

Examples of Primary Sources 

- Autobiographies/ Memoirs

- Correspondence

- Initial reports of event from periodicals

- Legal briefs

- Statistics (census reports, economic reports)

- Maps

- Photographs

- Artifacts

Other types of Primary Sources

- Original works of art or literature

- Data from a scientific experiment 

Pros of using Primary Sources

- "Straight from the horse's mouth"

- Little opportunity for "spin" to be applied

Cons of using Primary Sources

- Single point of view

- Little opportunity for reflection or analysis 

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources are the works that have interpreted, analyzed, evaluated, and reflected upon information provided from Primary Sources and earlier Secondary Sources. 

Examples of Secondary Sources 

- Biographies

- Books

- Commentaries

- Scholarly Articles

Pros of using Secondary Sources

- Opportunity to accumulate, analyze, and reflect upon a number of view points, including the knowledge of what was to become.

Cons of using Secondary Sources

- Time and reflection allow for "spin" to occur.  

A Brief Explanation

Tertiary Sources

Reference resources like encyclopedias, almanacs, dictionaries, and indexes are considered tertiary sources. These types of resources should not be the basis of a research paper, despite their value or necessity.