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Sources can be regarded as primary or secondary depending on their originality and proximity to the source or event.

Primary sources come directly from the source or person. They are original materials, which have not been filtered through interpretation. Examples include:

  • statistics, interviews and surveys
  • autobiographies, diaries and original writing e.g. literary works, novels, plays, poems
  • empirical journal articles
  • newspaper articles (when written at the time of an event)
  • photographs, music and art work
  • statutes and law reports.

Secondary sources analyse, interpret and comment on primary information. Examples include:

  • textbooks and books (when giving a topic overview or summary)
  • journal articles (when summarising the findings of others)
  • newspaper articles (when offering commentary or opinions)
  • literature reviews

Tertiary sources will contain condensed knowledge such as that found in dictionaries, encyclopaedias and handbooks.

The terms primary and secondary may have a discipline specific meaning. If you are in doubt, check with your tutor. 

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