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Syracuse University Libraries

Research Process: Getting Started: C. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A guide to assist students in conducting research using the wide variety of information sources available to them.


You've probably heard the terms primary and secondary by professors or librarians when discussing information sources for research. So you know there are two varieties of information, but what exactly is the difference?

Primary vs. Secondary Information






A source can be considered primary if it is a first-hand account of an event or person. A primary source is created during the time period or event being researched and has yet to be critiqued. The Libraries' Special Collections Research Center contains many unique collections of primary sources.

A secondary source contains information that is an interpretation of an event, person, or research. It may use primary sources to build its critique or evaluation. This type of source can be written by scholars, researchers, professionals, or journalists.


Types of Sources







  • Audio recording
  • Original documents (diary or letter)
  • Lab report
  • Interview
  • Government publication
  • Original research
  • Film footage from the occurrence of an event
  • Books that offer criticism or an interpretation of a subject
  • Journal articles
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Encyclopedias








  • Mark Twain's Autobiography
  • Film footage showing the fall of the twin towers on 9/11
  • A letter between a World War II soldier and his family
  • Audio recording of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech
  • John F. Kennedy, A Political Biography
  • Journal article comparing the U.S. athletic apparel industry with Germany's athletic apparel industry
  • Ken Burns' film, The Civil War