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Primary and Secondary Source Videos

What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Resources?

Primary sources, vary somewhat by discipline, but generally are considered to be original resources (first-hand or eyewitness accounts). They may include first hand newspaper accounts, letters, diaries, memoirs, some journals that report new research finding photos, artifacts, research data, government documents, art work, and more. They can include legal and historical documents.

Secondary sources (second-hand accounts) evaluate, analyze and/or interpret primary sources. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics taken from primary sources. They may include some ;newspaper, some journals, and magazines.

Research versus Review Articles

Scientific disciplines; often consider peer reviewed journals to be sources for primary research, but not all articles are primary. Articles that review, analyze, and evaluate other people's works are generally seen as secondary resources. Typical research articles include; abstracts, methods, results, and discussion and may include a literature review.

Arts and Humanities Research Articles

In the Arts and Humanities, scholarly articles tend to be less formatted than in the social sciences and sciences. In the humanities, scholars are not conducting the same kinds of research experiments, but they are still using evidence to draw logical conclusions.  Common sections of these articles include:

  • an Introduction
  • Discussion/Conclusion
  • works cited/References/Bibliography


Definitions of Primary Sources vary by Academic Discipline

Humanities - Primary sources (original) are often written during the time period of the event and may include reflection of the event.

Social Studies - Primary sources (original) are often written during the time period of the event and may include numerical data that analyzes relationships between events, people and / or the environment.

Natural Sciences; - Primary sources (original) may include original findings or ideas. Unedited, untranslated original transcripts. Conference proceedings are sometimes categorized as primary sources.

Selected Primary Source Categories by Discipline

Accounting SEC filings, company reports, Press releases
Anthropology artifacts, field notes, photographs, fossils
Art letters, motion pictures, paintings, personal accounts, photos, sculptures, sketchbooks, weaving, pottery
Aviation diaries, journals, photographs
Biology field notes, specimens, research reports, lab reports
Chemistry  field notes, detailed lab reports, source materials on findings, lab reports
Communication Studies interviews, diaries, speeches
Computer Science software; patent
Criminal Justice cases, testimony, written decision, precedent, governmental policy
Education statistics, consumer surveys, data series, diaries, interviews, case studies
English original works of literature, original manuscripts, autobiographies, film, plays, performances, diaries, journals, letters
Geography maps, oral histories, letters
Health Interviews, case studies, empirical research
History artifacts, autobiographies, diaries, interviews, letters, maps, oral histories, photographs, speeches, works of art, personal papers
Management annual reports, statistical data, surveys, public opinion polls
Mathematics papers and notes of original mathematicians
MAHPLS Interviews, case studies, empirical research
Music letters, scores, personal accounts, original sound recordings
Philosophy texts written by philosophers, religious documents: Bible, prayers, Koran
Physics scientific notes, statistics, observation data, lab measures; patent
Political Science treaties, laws, court cases, government policy, U.S. government census data
Psychology empirical data, Interviews, questionnaire data, observation data, lab measurements, empirical data, interviews
Social Work  questionnaire data, observation data, lab measurements, case studies
Sociology artifacts, interviews, oral histories, statistical data, surveys, empirical data, interviews, questionnaire data, observation data, lab measurements
Spanish diaries, letters ( in original language)

Research Articles, Reviews, and Opinion Pieces

Scholarly or research articles are written for experts in their fields. They are often peer-reviewed or reviewed by other experts in the field prior to publication. They often have terminology or jargon that is field specific. They are generally lengthy articles. Social science and science scholarly articles have similar structures as do arts and humanities scholarly articles. Not all items in a scholarly journal are peer reviewed. For example, an editorial opinion items can be published in a scholarly journal but the article itself is not scholarly. Scholarly journals may include book reviews or other content that have not been peer reviewed.

Empirical Study: (Original or Primary) based on observation, experimentation, or study. Clinical trials, clinical case studies, and most meta-analyses are empirical studies.

Review Article: (Secondary Sources) Article that summarizes the research in a particular subject, area, or topic. They often include a summary, an literature reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses.

Clinical case study (Primary or Original sources): These articles provide real cases from medical or clinical practice. They often include symptoms and diagnosis.

Clinical trials (Health Research): These articles are often based on large groups of people. They often include methods and control studies. They tend to be lengthy articles.

Opinion Piece:  An opinion piece often includes personal thoughts, beliefs, or feelings or a judgement or conclusion based on facts. The goal may be to persuade or influence the reader that their position on this topic is the best.

Book review: Recent review of books in the field. They may be several pages but tend to be fairly short. 

Social Science and Science Research Articles

The majority of social science and physical science articles include

  • Journal Title and Author
  • Abstract 
  • Introduction with a hypothesis or thesis
  • Literature Review
  • Methods/Methodology
  • Results/Findings
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • References