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Primary Sources

A guide to understanding and searching for primary sources

Variety of physical publications in a shelf display.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, analyze, interpret or summarize events, phenomena or primary sources.

Such sources are often created significantly later than the time the event occurred, or the primary source was created.


Types of Secondary Sources

  • Biographies, histories

  • Encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks, directories, textbooks, reference works

  • Magazine, journal, newspaper articles

  • Bibliographies, indexes

  • Works of criticism, analysis, interpretation or review (e.g., scholarship)


Primary vs. Secondary

  Primary Secondary
Literature  Hamlet (the play) Journal article about Hamlet
Art  Mona Lisa (painting) Article discussing da Vinci's work
History Recorded interview with a survivor of the Titanic disaster Book about the sinking of the Titanic
Business Annual report for Microsoft company Book about Microsoft
Politics/Government Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King Book about Canadian prime ministers
Social Science Census data Article about trends in the Canadian labour force
Psychology Results of a clinical trial to treat anorexia nervosa Book about treatment methods for eating disorders
Biology Annual bird count Report on the effects of pesticides on birds
Medicine A study of the dopamine D2 receptor in Huntington's Disease Book about neurological disorders