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COMP 111: The Nature of Narrative: Types of Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts, that serve as original evidence documenting a period, event, people, idea or work. 

Primary sources can be printed materials like books or newspapers, manuscript and archival materials like diaries and documents, artifacts, and audio/visual materials. Primary materials can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms. 

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Memoirs, speeches, writings, correspondence
  • Papers of a political party, agency, or association
  • Official documents such as congressional hearings and reports
  • Contemporary magazine and newspaper articles
  • Contemporary art, films, literature, and music
  • Contemporary artifacts, such as buildings and monuments

What are Secondary Sources?

Secondary sources interpret or analyze primary sources. Thus, they are a step removed from the event or original text. Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Articles from journals
  • Articles from magazines
  • Articles from edited collections
  • Biographies
  • Book reviews
  • Documentary films
  • Essays in anthologies
  • Literary criticism
  • Popular press books
  • Scholarly books

How you use a source determines whether it is a primary source or secondary source. If you are analyzing a magazine article from the 1940s to talk about what life was like during that time period, it is a primary source. However, if you are citing information from a magazine article written today about the 1940s, then it is a secondary source.

Credit: Jessup Library, Piedmont Virginia Community College