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United States History: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Help for your research in U.S. History

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources Puzzle

PrimarySources - jigsaw puzzle (99 pieces)

Free online jigsaw puzzle game


Primary Sources

  • A document or artistic work, speech, video or image
  • First hand evidence of an event, person or item
  • Created close to the time of a referenced event

Primary Sources Include

  • Written, audio or video account by an eyewitness
  • A report written close to the time of an incident
  • An artistic creation such as a poem, play, painting, dance, piece of music or other performance
  • Materials such as diaries, letters, postcards, or advertisements
  • Scientific and statistical evidence, case studies
  • Maps and photographs
  • Patents, architectural and schematic drawings or models

Secondary Sources

  • Describe, summarize or analyze information
  • Discuss information originally presented elsewhere
  • Second-hand account written after an event
  • Utilize primary sources
  • Are usually written by "experts"

Secondary Sources Include

  • Reviews of a performance or object
  • Articles that interpret or review research works
  • Books excluding autobiographies and memoirs

Tertiary Sources

  • Based upon or summarize secondary sources
  • Usually don't utilize primary sources
  • No original research by the author(s)
  • Usually have "editors" rather than "authors"

Tertiary Sources Include

  • Dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, textbooks
  • Directories and almanacs
  • Guidebooks and manuals
  • Chronologies and abstracts

Where to Look for Primary Sources