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How to Evaluate Information Sources: What are primary sources?

Primary sources

Primary sources of information are original materials that often convey new ideas, discoveries, or information. These sources originate from the time period under study. Examples of primary sources include:

  • original research studies (often in the form of journal articles in peer-reviewed publications), also called empirical studies (e.g. psychology)
  • patents, technical reports
  • original documents such as diaries, letters, emails, manuscripts, lab data/notes
  • newspaper articles from the time period under study
  • autobiographies, first-person accounts, case studies
  • artifacts and archival material such as official documents, minutes recorded by government agencies and organizations, photographs, coins, fossils, natural specimens
  • works of art such as literature, music, architecture, or painting

TIP:  What is considered primary, secondary, or tertiary information may vary according to your field of study. When in doubt, ask your professor.

How to differentiate primary and secondary sources

This video by the now-defunct Cooperative Library Instruction Project and hosted by the Downs-Jones Library defines and demonstrates the differences between primary and secondary sources in several different scholarly disciplines. It includes a quiz so that you can apply what you have learned.