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How do I recognize primary, secondary, and tertiary sources?

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What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original materials created or produced during the time under study. These raw materials have not been interpreted, filtered, or evaluated. Because of this, primary sources enable the reader to make their own interpretations about the materials, without having to rely on what has already been written on the topic. 

Examples of primary sources include

  • scientific journal articles reporting experimental research results
  • proceedings of meetings, conferences, symposia
  • technical reports
  • patents
  • data sets (such as census statistics)
  • works of literature (novels, poems, etc.)
  • diaries
  • autobiographies
  • interviews
  • surveys
  • letters and correspondence
  • speeches
  • government documents
  • photographs and works of art (paintings, sculptures, etc.)
  • legal documents (birth certificates, trial transcripts, etc.)
  • films, documentaries, plays

NOTE: Many things can become primary sources depending on how they are used. For example, a blog that analyzes a movie is a secondary source, but if you are writing an essay about how blogs analyze movies, the blog becomes a primary source.

Infographic: Primary Sources Across the Disciplines

ResearchMinute Video: Primary Sources

Watch this video to learn about primary sources.

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