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The Research Process: A Guide for OCC Students: 3b. Primary vs. Secondary
This guide will walk you through the research process for a standard research paper.
When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.
Primary A first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. The original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.
First person account of an event
First publication of a scientific study
Speech or lecture
Letters between two people
Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
Secondary One step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information conveyed in the primary source.
Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
Review of a music CD or art show
Tertiary Further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.
Index to articles
Search the Library Catalog to find primary source material for your topic. Try adding one of the keywords below:
Why is it important to be able distinguish primary and secondary sources?
Whether conducting research in the social sciences, humanities (especially history), arts, or natural sciences, the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary sources is essential. Your instructor may ask you to find one of these types of sources for a class project or paper.
Most simply, this distinction illustrates the degree to which the author of a piece is removed from the actual event being described, informing the reader as to whether the author is reporting impressions first hand or conveying the experiences and opinions of others—that is, second hand.
Primary and secondary sources are different between the disciplines, so understanding what constitutes each is very valuable.
This database contains hundreds of newspapers published in the United States. Each article is an image of the original newspaper page, so you can see in context how the article looked to people at the time it was published. Newspapers covered include ethnic, business, agricultural and mainstream newspapers, allowing you to see how the same event was covered differently by different groups.
This database contains periodicals and magazines published in the 1700-1800s in the US. These primary resources are a great way to see what people thought of issues and events in the past. When searching, keep in mind that language changes over time - you may need to use more antiquated words to find the articles you want!