Pages from a Book of Hours
Pages from Albert Leffingwell's Diary
Photograph of Frances Folsom Cleveland Preston
Wells College Alma Mater
What is a primary source?
A primary source is the source you are analyzing for your topic. Typically, these are historical documents such as letters, diaries, or manuscripts. However, based on the discipline in which you are doing research, your primary source may be different. Creative works such as paintings or poetry may be primary sources in the humanities, while a scientific journal article with original research is a primary source in the sciences. These are all original sources of information that the scholar then analyzes to form their own ideas.
What is a secondary source?
Secondary sources are one step removed from the topic of study. They typically analyze or interpret primary sources, and are not created contemporaneously to the event they discuss. These can include books, biographies, literary criticism, and some newspaper articles.
Source Classification Can Change
A source can be either primary or secondary depending on your topic. For example, if a scholar is writing a paper on natural disasters, they may use a magazine article analyzing the causes of a specific natural disaster as a secondary source. However, if the scholar is writing a paper about how journalists report on natural disasters, the magazine article would be their primary source because the scholar is analyzing the journalist's analysis. A source is primary or secondary depending on the type of analysis a scholar is conducting.
Additional primary sources in your discipline may be found by checking the research guide for that discipline.