Primary vs Secondary Sources

The Definitions

Primary Sources are first hand narratives, original documents/objects or factual accounts that were written or made during or close to the event or period of time. They have a direct connection to a person, time, event or place.  Primary sources have not been subject to processing, manipulation, analysis or interpretation.

Secondary Sources interpret analysis and critique primary sources. They can provide a second-hand version of events or an interpretation of first-hand account.  They can tell a story one or more steps remove from the original person, time place or event.



  • things that we can study directly.
  • ‘raw’ materials from that time period.
  • they have not been filtered through the lends of academic interpretation.
  • the fragments through which historical accounts are constructed.


  • accounts written or produced after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight or critical discourse.
  • interpretations/evaluations of primary sources.

We will need to use both types of sources in our dissertations. 

Notes are from today’s workshop: None of this is my own work. The image is from:

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