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SLS 1501 - Strategies for Success in College

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When researching your topic, it's important to understand the differences between primary and secondary sources. Here are some general definitions and examples.

Primary Sources provide direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person or work of art and are usually written or created during the time under study. Examples include

  • Articles presenting original research and data
  • Interviews 
  • Speeches
  • Archival materials (like letters, diaries, photographs, etc.)
  • Creative Works
  • Newspaper articles reporting on current events

Secondary sources interpret, comment on, analyze, or review information from primary sources and can be written after the time under study. Examples include

  • Articles in periodicals (journals, magazines, newspapers, etc.) that review or interpret previous research or events
  • Most non-fiction books, including textbooks, biographies, and history books

Popular vs. Scholarly Sources

While many of our library databases allow you to filter your search results to scholarly articles, it is still helpful to know the differences between popular and scholarly sources to ensure that you are fulfilling your assignment requirements. This chart summarizes some of the main distinctions between the two types of sources. 

Characteristics Popular Source Scholarly Source
Written by  staff writers, reporters, or freelance journalists researchers, experts in a particular field
Audience general public academics, someone familiar with the field
Language easy to understand and nontechnical discipline-specific, often contains jargon 
Length & scope short, provides a broad overview of a topic lengthy, provides in-depth coverage and analysis of a topic
Citation & research

rarely cites sources and often reports on research conducted by others

cites sources and provides extensive references, often presents original research

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