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Choosing Primary/Secondary Sources

When choosing appropriate sources, we also need to decide if we should use primary and/or secondary sources. Our research goals and our readers' expectations greatly influence which type we should use.

Primary and secondary sources are not necessarily defined by their formats or by the kinds of writing in them. They are defined by the author's proximity to the original event, experience, work, experiment, or research study.

  • Primary sources offer original material. They include case studies, first-hand accounts, original research studies and experiment, interviews, works of art, surveys, speeches, letters, and diaries.
    • Using primary sources helps us make sure that the data, conclusions, and facts we present stay true to the original.
    • Reading primary sources can help us understand historical contexts, learn research methodologies, and discover our own perspectives.
    • They also help us avoid being influenced by others' interpretations.
  • Secondary sources analyze, discuss, and interpret primary sources. They include reviews of others' research studies, textbooks, literary analyses, and most conference papers.
    • Reading secondary sources can help us notice gaps in research, focus our research topics, and understand the primary sources.
    • They can also help us catch up with current research findings and trends.
    • Secondary sources are usually published long after the primary sources they address.