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I-Search Papers: Primary & Secondary Sources

A brief guide through the process of an I-Search paper

You will likely come across both types of sources in your research - primary and secondary. Some suggest that there is an additional type of source - tertiary - that is even further in degrees of separation from primary. If you are using an interview as a resource, that is a primary source. The vast majority of content in a textbook is secondary. Typically, you don't have to state the which resource is which type, but it can be helpful to understand the value of these types of information in research.

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official record, the original research components of articles
CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece 


Adapted from Princeton Library

Secondary Sources

What is a secondary source? 
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources - these are the majority of articles and books in the library. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:

PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
A history textbook 
A book about the effects of WWI 

Primary & Secondary Sources video - LibraryLearn