Answered By: Shana Higgins
Last Updated: Jul 12, 2016     Views: 7224

Research in all of the disciplines - whether in the arts, humanities, social sciences, or sciences - will require the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary sources of information and material. In the most basic terms, the distinction relates to the degree to which the author/creator of the information or material object is removed from the event represented. 

Primary sources have a direct or first-hand relationship to an event, object, person, or work of art, and include newspaper accounts of events, the text or recordings of speeches and performances, diaries, interviews, photographs, film and video, lab and research reports in the natural and physical sciences, and original literary works. 

Secondary sources are further removed from the event or phenomena represented, and are analytical and interpretive. Secondary sources draw conclusions about why and how events occurred. In academic work, we most often make use of secondary sources in the form of scholarly books and journal articles, but may also use radio, television, and film documentaries, blog articles, conference proceedings, and white papers. 

In distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, below are some examples from different disciplines.

Discipline Primary Source Secondary Source
Archaeology farming tools a geographic comparative analysis of innovative implements
Art an artist's sketch book conference proceedings on Fauve artist
History United States Constitution A book tracing legislation related to free speech
Sociology voter registry A Ph.D dissertation on Latinx voting patterns
Literature a novel literary criticism of Samuel Delany's Dhalgren
Music an opera score biography of composer Barney Childs
Political Science a public opinion poll an editorial on campaign finance reform
Chemistry a lab notebook lab report summarizing results of experiment

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