Skip to Main Content

Finding Primary Sources: Home

A guide created to assist students to find and evaluate primary sources.

Primary and Secondary Sources in Humanities

Cover of the journal of W.H. Collison from 1870
"Journal of W.H. Collison," Archdeacon W. H. Collison fonds, Item 2009.7.2.7, Northern BC Archives.

Primary Sources

A primary source is a first-hand account of an event that is created during the time that event took place; they can also be created retrospectively at a later date by a participant in those events. They are original documents and usually don’t describe or analyze other documents. They can also be creative works.

Examples include:

  • Memoirs, autobiographies, manuscripts
  • Diaries, letters, oral histories
  • Speeches, laws, court documents
  • Historical newspaper articles
  • Documented observations, interviews, original research, data
  • Works of art, novels, plays, artifacts
  • Photographs, musical scores, choreography

How are they used?

  • Focal point of discussion
  • Used to back up claims or criticisms
  • Evidence for theories and research
  • Historical perspectives

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are written by scholars or observers, after the fact, and interpret or analyze primary sources or events. These sources are at least one step removed from what they are describing.

Examples include:

  • Scholarly or popular books which provide a summary of events or synthesize information from many primary sources
  • Newspaper, magazine or journal articles which analyze events or ideas
  • Textbooks, encyclopedias, essays, reviews, reference books

How are they used?

  • Get background info and understand the scope of a topic
  • See what others have discussed, or get opinions
  • Learn how recent events affect or fit into the larger picture
  • Understand the significance of events, data, or works of literature and art

Primary and Secondary Sources in the Sciences

Pulpmill - Chemist conducting testing in lab. Accession # 2001.26.1.68
"Pulpmill - General - Chemist conducting testing in lab," Northwood Pulp and Timber Ltd. fonds, Accession # 2001.26.1.68, Northern BC Archives.

Primary Sources

Primary sources in the Sciences usually consist of reports on or descriptions of original research. Information presented in primary source documents typically represents the results of scientific studies or experiments, data collection, or field research.

Primary sources in the Science may include:

  • Conference proceedings
  • Interviews
  • Journal articles presenting original research results
  • Lab notes
  • Patents
  • Reports
  • Theses and dissertations

Secondary Sources

A secondary source document in the Sciences is usually an interpretation, analysis, or summary of original (primary source) research. Information presented in secondary source documents is based on primary sources, but is "one step" removed from primary source information.

Secondary sources in the Sciences may include:

  • Books
  • Commentaries
  • Journal articles presenting a review, discussion or analysis of primary research
  • Literature reviews
  • Monographs (works on a single topic, usually a book)

Library Research Guide

The Library Research Guide is your one-stop information source on beginning your research, searching the Geoffrey R. Weller Library catalogue and databases, evaluating your sources, and more.

Contact Us