Answered By: Steven Profit
Last Updated: Sep 17, 2016     Views: 180849

This web page from the Borough of Manhattan Community College offers a side by side comparison with examples.

Sources in the Humanities         (for sources in the Sciences, click here)

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. Primary sources enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event and or time period. Examples include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings


A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Examples include textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, and encyclopedias.


Sources in the Sciences

Primary research (also called field research) involves the collection of data that does not already exist, meaning research activity to collect original data. Primary research is often undertaken after the researcher has gained some insight into the issue by collecting secondary data. Examples of primary research include

  • Qualitative research
    • interviews
    • focus groups
    • ethnographies
    • participant observations
  • Quantitative research
    • controlled laboratory experiments
    • field work
    • questionnaires
    • surveys

Secondary research involves the summary, collection and/or synthesis of existing research. Secondary research includes meta-analyses and literature reviews.

Comments (9)

  1. this was really bad i have no idea what i was doing
    by seb on Aug 10, 2016.
    by WAAZ-UP on Aug 11, 2016.
  3. This was kinda helpful and really helped me some sources and I don't think it was kinda accurate but it was close and it was some good information
    by Jessica on Aug 25, 2016.
  4. This is helpful, but very wordy so basically primary research is first hand accounts it could be interviews, eye witness accounts, places you go to for research like shops for research on food items (depending on the topic and kind of research neede for the topic) and secondary resources are second hand accounts think of it like chinese whispers, its just what someone thinks they have heard, so it could be froim TV shows, or other films/ plays/ works of art, poems, speeches, books, websites (again this depends on what you are researching and the type of research like humanities reasearch and scidence research if different. However, what i just mentioned applies to most things.Hope this helps peeps. Btw i just though that i should mention that this is from a 17 yros view so you don't have to highly qualified (university/ college graduate) to know this stuff.

    I appreciate your comment in regards to this Ask Us FAQ entry. I'm writing to hopefully clarify things a bit because it is important that you understand these distinctions.

    Primary sources, primary research
    This is a good definition from "Primary sources provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a research topic or question under investigation." So this can be something that documents an event or a phenomenon, created by persons or groups (like governmental bodies, businesses, organizations, etc.) who experienced and/or took part in the event or phenomenon. It can also document original scientific research, reporting the methods, procedures, results and conclusions of original (firsthand) experiments and observations.

    Secondary sources, secondary research
    Academically speaking, secondary sources aren't gossip or hearsay. They are sources that analyze, interpret, and comment on primary sources and/or other secondary sources. For example, a book about the structure and organization of the terrorist group ISIS that analyzes the group's own publications and communications (the group's own primary sources) to understand its internal structure and workings would be a secondary source. Also, a meta-analysis is a secondary source. Another example: A meta-analysis analyzes many primary research documents, examining the original research of other scientists who've done experiments in a certain subject area. The meta-analysis doesn't do any new research but looks at an existing body of original research to better understand what we know about the subject area from all the experiments done in that subject area.
    by Kris10 on Sep 04, 2016.
  5. No help
    by Anon on Feb 07, 2017.
  6. Well
    by David on Mar 06, 2017.
  7. Very helpful
    by Georgie on Mar 06, 2017.
  8. Well
    by Hasnain on Mar 13, 2017.
  9. This helped me a lot, thanks dude!!!!
    by LiyahBrielle on Apr 11, 2017.

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