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Student Research Help - Sources

I need to know if a source is primary or secondary.

What types of sources are considered primary and secondary depends on the subject you are working in. The charts below list types of sources that are often used as primary and secondary sources, and the areas of study in which the sources are likely to be used that way.

A general definition of a primary source is one that is produced by the person who experienced what they are writing about. In the case of the sciences and social sciences, this could be a research article written by the person who performed the research. In the case of the arts and humanities, this could be a performance of a play or a diary entry about a battle written by a soldier who fought in it.

Primary Sources

Reports of original research or experiments conducted by experts in the area of study.

  • articles
  • dissertations
  • technical reports
  • conference presentations

The raw material underlying the reports.

  • field observations
  • interview transcripts
  • data

Used as primary sources for:                                      

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Math
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Original works of art, music, or writing.

  • paintings, sculptures, photographs
  • radio or television broadcasts
  • poems, novels, plays
  • operas, sonatas
  • stage design, choreography, costumes

Used as primary sources for:

  • Art
  • Communications
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Theater

Philosophical or religious texts

  • writings of a philosopher
  • Hebrew Bible
  • Christian New Testament
  • Muslim Quran
  • Hindu Vedas

Used as primary sources for:

  • Philosophy
  • Religion

Sources describing the events during which they were created.

  • newspaper articles
  • diaries
  • letters

Used as primary sources for:

  • Art
  • History
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Political Science

 

Secondary Sources

Sources analyzing, interpreting, or synthesizing information from research studies.

  • summary of primary research related to a specific concept
  • critique of one or more original research studies
  • review of the results of several experiments

Used as secondary sources for:      

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Math
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Criticism of an original creative work.

  • analysis of the themes or rhetorical characteristics of a novel
  • discussion of how a piece of music is put together
  • critique of a particular production of a play

Used as secondary sources for:

  • Art
  • Communications
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Theater

Interpretation of a philosophical or religious text.

  • analysis of a philosopher's writings
  • discussion of a verse or passage from the Bible or Quran
  • investigation into the origin or authorship of a text

Used as secondary sources for:

  • Philosophy
  • Religion

Study of a historical event, trend, or phenomenon.

  • interpretation of the causes leading to a war
  • discussion of the effects of a government policy
  • analysis of the culture of a particular time and place
  • biography of a notable figure

Used as secondary sources for:

  • Art
  • History
  • Literature
  • Music
  • Political Science

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