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WRITING 90SK: U.S. Academic Writing for EFL Students: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library

Primary sources
are first-hand accounts of an event. Primary sources may include newspaper articles, letters, diaries, interviews, laws, reports of government commissions, and many other types of documents.

How to Read a Primary Source (Bowdoin College) includes a helpful section with questions to ask when evaluating a primary source.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Digital Collections
  • Newspapers (can be primary or secondary source)
  • Letters and correspondence
  • Diaries and personal narratives
  • Interviews
  • Government documents
  • Laws & Legislation 

     Visual Resources

  • Still Images/photos
  • Video/Films taken at the time of the event
  • Sound-recordings – such as oral histories, political speeches

   Numerical & Geospatial Data

  • Maps
  • Non-spatial data sets

Secondary Sources

Image courtesy Cardinal Stritch University Library

Secondary Sources are analyses based on the author's own reading of existing primary sources. Scholarly works use peer-reviewed academic sources, such as journal articles, books, and book chapters for research.

What is a scholarly or peer reviewed article? View NCSU Library's 5-minute tutorial: Peer Review in Five Minutes

Examples of Secondary Sources


  • Reference books (subject-specific encyclopedias and dictionaries give you a helpful overview of your topic, provide authoritative definitions of terms, theoretical concepts and historical events, and a bibliography. 
  • Published research: scientific studies and monographs, containing scholarly analysis,  Footnotes and bibliographies provide additional resources and substantiate the author's research.


  • Scholarly articles
  • Magazine or journal articles that analyze an idea or event

   Dissertations & Theses

   Book Reviews