Primary and Secondary Sources – all you need to know!

25.03.21 Types of sources Time to read: 5min

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Whenever college students are assigned some work, they have the option to use primary and secondary sources. In some instances, the college might be strict about the sources they must use to complete the work. This post is created to help students like you understand the differences between primary and secondary sources. Therefore, be sure to go through the entire piece to gain as many details as possible.

Primary and Secondary Sources - FAQ

A primary source is any information source that provides first-hand information about a given event, person, object, work of art, e.t.c. Most of the time, published materials are treated as secondary sources of information as long as they come from what is being discussed and created by someone with a first-hand encounter of the event.

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On the other hand, a secondary source is a source of information that is or was made available later by an individual without a first-hand encounter with the topic of the discussion you are looking for. Today, all scholarly books and articles qualify as secondary sources of information. Primary and secondary sources are available online, and it is vital that you learn how to tell the difference.

Suppose you are a student looking to finish some work. In that case, it is vital to note that primary sources are ordinarily old and published around the time when whatever you want to learn about happened (both primary and secondary sources can be old). Secondary sources are relatively recent, and whoever created them must have gotten information from the primary sources of information. Note that primary and secondary sources are both created by individuals, so be careful when using them. Therefore, when searching, be sure to know when the topic you are writing about occurred, and you will be good to go.

Unlike thesis statements, it is okay to use a topic sentence to answer in the paragraph using primary and secondary sources. It is essential to ensure that your topic sentence relates to the thesis statement. The topic sentence might come in handy when you need to pique your readers’ curiosity and make them pay attention to what you are writing about. This can apply when you are using both primary and secondary sources.

Your topic sentence should touch on the main idea being discussed in the entire paragraph. Thus, to write a good topic sentence, go through the paragraph and understand what it is talking about. The details in the paragraph will help you come up with a great topic sentence for your discussion.

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Primary and Secondary Sources: Definition

Besides not knowing the difference, most college students are always unsure how to use primary and secondary sources to write essays. Primary sources are considered significant because, unlike secondary sources, they are created by individuals who lived when the topic of discussion occurred. Some of them are also designed by people who had first-hand experience with what your essay is supposed to talk about. There are free internet resources that are put in place to help students find primary and secondary sources without breaking a sweat.

How to Tell if a Source is Primary or Secondary

Primary Sources Secondary Sources
Raw information and first hand evidence Second-hand details and comments from other writers and content creators
Most include interview transcripts, works of art, and statistical data Most include reviews, articles, academic books, and journals
Direct access to the information you are looking for Secondary sources naturally interpret or elaborate on what is in the primary source

Both primary and secondary sources can share the same formats, such as interviews, articles, journals, books, e.t.c.

To find out if a particular piece can serve as a secondary or primary source of information, there are specific vital questions that you should try to ask yourself. For instance, you should seek to know whether the source you are looking at comes from someone involved in the study or another researcher.

You also want to ask yourself whether you want to analyse the source you are looking at or intend to use it for background information. If the source provides original information, then it is a primary source. However, if it only comments on other sources, you are looking at a secondary source.

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What Type of Source is Better?

To write good research, you are supposed to use both primary and secondary sources. This is because you need primary and secondary sources to complement each other to come up with a striking argument. Primary sources are great when you need to have credible evidence in your research. However, it becomes easier to manifest the relationship between your work and existing research with secondary sources.

Primary sources serve as the foundation of the actual research. They let students make discoveries weave incredible evidence in their essay to come up with a substantial argument, and let you provide authoritative information around the topic of discussion.

Primary and secondary sources are useful because they help students gain a full overview of the topic of discussion. It also helps them see how other writers and scholars have handled the topic they are talking about. Most secondary sources tend to synthesise a wide range of resources, which would otherwise be challenging for students to get.

With secondary sources, students can gain background information about the topic of discussion, contrast or support arguments, and collect details from primary sources that they might not have easy access to. Primary and secondary sources play different roles in your essay, which is why your instructor will tell you how to use them.

In a Nutshell

Students, when conducting research, must know the differences between primary and secondary sources. Though the two can be used jointly, it is only necessary to use primary sources of information. They make students sound knowledgeable about the topic of discussion. Both primary and secondary sources are essential when learners want to have diverse ways to approach a given discussion topic. Even with that, learners must know when using primary and secondary sources and how each one of them should be employed to complete a given academic work.

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