Primary & Secondary Sources

Last Updated: 26 April, 2021 | Provide Feedback


Primary sources are the original materials or evidence to be analyzed, evaluated, contextualized, or synthesized in the research process. Secondary Sources analyze, evaluate, contextualize, or synthesize evidence. They often give secondhand accounts based on engagement with primary sources. This chart offers distinctions by discipline:


Example Fields

Primary Source Examples

Secondary Source Examples


Visual Arts, Performing Arts

Sketchbooks, scripts, plays, sculptures, music

Critical reviews in journal articles, publications about the authors/artists and their works


Philosophy, History, Literature, Languages

Speeches, diaries, narratives, artifacts, interviews, short stories, original research

Reviews of books, literary criticisms, topical monographs, journal articles, annotated bibliographies, documentaries

Social Sciences

Business, Psychology, Political Science, Education, Economics

Studies, lesson plans, case reports, surveys, market research and testing, statistical data, published results of clinical trials

Publications about the significance of research or experiments, reviews of results

Natural Sciences and Applied Sciences

Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, Medicine, Agriculture, Computer Science

Published results of experiments, observations, discoveries, technical reports, models, schematic drawings, specimens, designs

Publications about the significance of research  or experiments, reviews of results

It is important to note that the distinction between primary and secondary sources is contextual and you may not be able to tell solely based on document type. A document may be considered a primary source in one context and a secondary source in another. For example, a speech about the Declaration of Independence by a notable orator would be a secondary source for a scholar studying the philosophical origins of the document, but a primary source when studying how the Declaration's meaning has changed over time.

Get Help

To learn more about how to find primary and secondary sources in your discipline, browse your subject guide. If you have questions or need more help try Ask a Librarian. Use the button below to download a printable version of this tutorial.



Creative Commons License Primary & Secondary Sources by The Teaching & Learning Team is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.