Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

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Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

Have you ever encountered these terms before; primary and secondary sources? Do you understand what each one of them means? Well, primary and secondary sources are the types of information that you use when carrying out research.  At some point in life, I’m sure you have done the research, whether academic or non-academic. 

For you to find solutions to research, you always consult somewhere. You may have used a dictionary, Bible, Quran, newspaper, textbook, or more. These are some of the primary or secondary sources of information we will discuss. 

In academics, there is a rule that you should always recognize or give credit to the source of data or ideas you use. This article will define primary and secondary sources, give examples and compare them.

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What is Primary Source?

Primary sources offer first-hand information or provide raw evidence on an event that happened, data about a study, or original work.  A primary source isn’t analyses, reviews, or critiques about an occurrence. So, these are original artifacts or resources that someone who witnessed an event created and lived during the study.

Which are the Examples of Primary Sources?

You can’t recognize a primary source when cited in a paper or document; the only way to realize it is by researching and identifying the source of content or event you are studying.

  These sources are essential, especially in legal matters like eyewitnesses, journals, and diaries in case of a crime. So, if handling such research, engage our law essay writing service

 Below is a list of primary sources;

Examples of unpublished sources

  • Letters
  • Memoirs
  • Speeches
  • Journals
  • Manuscripts
  • Interviews
  • All unpublished works
  • Diaries
  • Autobiographies by famous people
  • Eyewitnesses account

Published pieces were written soon after the fact,

  • Art
  • Patent
  • Audio recordings, videos
  • First-hand evidence/ oral histories
  • Original literary or theoretical works
  • Photographs of a historical event
  • Research report in social sciences
  • Statistical data from surveys and studies
  • Novels and short stories
  • Publishes essays and opinion pieces
  • Documentaries
  • Poll results
  • Music recordings and speeches
  • Government policies and laws
  • Legal or financial documents
  • News articles

You will use these primary sources, especially in history and law. If you find citing or paraphrasing challenging, seek our history essay writing service

What are Secondary Sources?

A secondary source is usually the information written about a primary source. So, these documents comment, interpret, summarize, analyze, and criticize the primary sources. Secondary are written by people who didn't witness the events as they occurred. So, these resources provide information based on the primary source and the author’s interpretation.

So, when reading an article or journal, be keen to identify its type. Check if the author discusses or presents the results of their research. So, this brings the difference between the primary and secondary sources.  If the author presents data on their research, it will be primary, but it's secondary if they are reporting or interpreting others’ work.

Which are Examples of Secondary Sources?

  • Journal articles
  • Reviews
  • Academic books
  • Evaluation essays
  • Synopsis
  • Descriptions of artistic works
  • Reference books
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Scholarly journals
  • Interpretation of interviews
  • Coverage of someone else’s experience
  • Bibliographies
  •  Abstracts and indexes
  • Commentaries and treatises
  • Exhibition catalog explaining the artwork

Where Can You Find Primary Sources?

Primary sources are unpublished, and locating them can be hard. However, some resources can help you:

  • Web - you can search on the internet for your research topic by adding phrases that will bring primary sources results. For instance, you can add primary sources, letters, etc.,
  • Project Gutenberg - if you are working on a literature assignment, then you need the original literature. The project Gutenberg will assist you in acquiring more information on these sources.
  • Primary source databases – you can find those libraries that have subscribed to primary data sources.
  • Newspapers – they are excellent sources of past and current events.
  • Scientific research articles – primary sources sometimes differ depending on the discipline. So, peer-reviewed journals are considered primary sources in sciences, as they contain original content and data.
  • Cultural institutions - include museums, civic and cultural groups, libraries, and religious institutions. These institutions usually keep pictures, letters, diaries, artwork, and other original works and preserve them for the public. They also scan the materials to make them available on the web.  Therefore, you can access these documents in the Library of Congress or American Memory.
  • Government agencies and NGOsmostly keep statistics and datasets and you can always enquire from them.

Where Can You Find Secondary Sources?

Some of the resources for secondary sources include:

  • HCC libraries – have more databases on English or literary topics,
  • Library catalog - which is a good source of secondary sources that your professors have selected. So, depending on the study subject, consult your librarian, who will direct you.
  • Project Muse - its online access to articles and scholarly journals in humanities, social sciences, and mathematics. It has a record of around 500 journals.
  • JSTOR – provides over 2000 scholarly journals in many disciplines such s sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. 
  • Oxford Bibliographies – a site that offers content for various subjects like literature, public health, environmental science, social work, etc.
  • Google Scholar – it’s a search engine for scholarly literature like papers, theses, dissertations, books, case studies, and reports.
  • Pew Research Centre – contains reports of trending global issues. These articles include opinion polls, media analysis, and social research.
  • Data.gov – an open data site for the US government where one can access various topics from health and agriculture to technology. 

Which are the Differences between Secondary and Primary Sources?

By now, you can tell what primary and secondary sources are. When carrying out research, both are very necessary to ensure you gather quality information when researching. Again, they help you support your argument or idea on a topic or subject. So let’s find out the similarities between the two and later their differences:

Similarities between Primary and Secondary Sources

  1. The sources are used to gather information
  2. You can trust both sources for information since they are written by experts
  3. Both primary and secondary sources are referenced in academic work or research
  4. Both sources are used during the resource

Differences between the Two Sources

  1. A primary source is an original document or a direct account of information. In contrast, a secondary source is the second-hand information that an author interprets, retells, or analyzes from the original copy.
  2. The primary source was written during the event, while the secondary source relies on the primary one to interpret.
  3. Primary sources are written by people commenting on a theory or event, while secondary sources give more details on the original document.
  4. Primary sources contain witnessed research, while secondary research is based on the primary source.
  5. Primary sources obtain statistical data from surveys, census, and economic statistics which aren’t recorded elsewhere. But, in a secondary source, they use various data types referenced to the primary source.
  6. Primary sources contain direct information from the event, while secondary they are primarily scholarly. These are sources whose authors weren’t involved in gathering the original information. 
  7. Primary sources usually come first in the publication cycle, while secondary sources are always second.

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Primary and Secondary Sources?

Pros of Primary Sources

  • Helps you acquire the original information that’s intact
  • Gives more weight to the opinions being quoted since it’s the original form
  • Allows you to make discoveries
  • You get up-to-date information 

Cons of Primary Sources 

  • The information may be unusable in its original form and requires more interpretation
  • Being dependent on primary sources is relying on your knowledge, and it isn’t sufficient for research
  • This source gives information from one point of view which isn’t favorable in modern research. Scholars like to criticize, analyze and see things in different dimensions.
  • They have more limitations in terms of time, place, and participants

Pros secondary sources

  • Helps you get background information on the topic
  • It supports or contrasts your arguments with other research
  • Helps in gathering information from primary sources that are hard to access
  • Gives new understanding and insights into various topics
  • Any person can collect data when doing research
  • It's very easy to find these sources, especially on the internet

Cons of secondary sources

  • Sometimes may be biased especially if the researcher has some personal interests
  • It’s not timely as most sources used data from the past
  • As a researcher, you don’t have control over the data quality since anyone can misinterpret it

When Should You Use Primary and Secondary Sources?

As a student, you need primary and secondary sources when conducting research. But how do you know when to sue them?  You should use primary sources like audio recordings to relate to past events and understand the history of the events.  So, primary sources are essential in historical events and when seeking direct evidence.

Which other Sources of Information Exist?

The third source of information is called tertiary, and they provide a third-hand massage.  They mostly contain ideas and unique detail from secondary sources. The purpose of tertiary sources is to index, organize, compile, and interpret other sources.  These research documents are not owned by a particular author.

Examples of Tertiary Sources

  • Dictionaries and encyclopedias -  also fall under the secondary category
  • Almanacs,
  • Fact books,
  • Wikipedia,
  • Bibliographies,
  • Guidebooks,
  • Manuals,
  • Handbooks,
  • Indexing and abstracting sources, 

Pros of tertiary

  • They offer a simple introduction to your research
  • They focus on high-quality sources

Cons of tertiary

  • They affect the quality of the content as they try to simplify
  • They forget the new insight into a topic

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is a Map a Primary and Secondary Source?

A map can be a primary source and a secondary source of data. If it’s the original piece used for exploring, this is a primary source since no one has interfered with its information. However, if it’s a second, third, or even fourth version of the original one, it becomes a secondary source after analysis and more interpretation.

2. Can I Use Primary and Secondary Sources in the Same Document?

Yes, using both sources is a good idea as they add merit to your research. Your research or project will have a rounded approach to the topic. You will have a mix of the researcher's original text and the scholars' interpretation. So, your subject will be informative to your audience and broad contextually.

3. Do I Need to Cite Primary and Secondary Sources Differently?

No, all the sources of information follow the same referencing method. You can use APA (American Psychological Association), MLA (Modern Language Association), Chicago, and Harvard. All these methods require different formatting guidelines so be sure to apply the appropriate ones for your chosen method.

4. What is the Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary sources provide unprocessed data or direct evidence gathered through research, while secondary sources evaluate and interpret the information derived from primary sources.

To Wrap Up

When researching, it's always important to focus on quality and detailed sources. These sources of information depend on the topic you are handling and the intensity of your project. So, you have learned that there are two main data sources: primary and secondary. No source of data is superior to the other; you need both to conduct informative research. Again, remember there is tertiary, which highlights the facts in secondary sources.

If you need the untampered form of data, choose primary, or if you require the detailed and interpreted form, search the secondary sources. With the internet, you can easily access all these sources of data. We have given you a list of where to get primary and secondary information, so these should be straightforward.

If you encounter any hiccups while researching, don’t hesitate to ask. Consider placing an order for our writing services. Again, you can also buy university assignments from us.

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