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Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Resources : Primary Sources

Content provided by Mount Saint Vincent University Library

What is a Primary Resource anyway?

Primary Sources

A primary source is an original document or account of an event that stands on its own.  It will usually have been written or created during the time under study by firsthand observers or participants.

Examples include:

  • Published sources (in print or online) such as novels, poems, plays, data from a research study, autobiographies, and speeches. Primary sources also include eyewitness accounts in newspapers, twitter, magazines or blogs.  Other primary sources include interviews, transcripts, advertisements, maps, pamphlets, posters, laws, and court decisions.
  • Unpublished sources, such as personal letters, diaries, journals, wills, deeds, family histories, and many other sources.
  • Interviews and recordings from people with firsthand knowledge of events.
  • Visual documents and artifacts, such as photographs, films, paintings and other types of artwork, coins, clothing, tombstones, and many other things.

A note about journal articles

Journal articles are often classified as both primary and secondary sources.  The Method and Results sections of a paper may be considered primary information, while the Introduction, Discussion, and Conclusion may be considered secondary information, since the author is bringing in the work and ideas of others.

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