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Primary vs. secondary source

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If you want to make your work more effective and influential, it is important that you refer to and study many published sources and relate them to your work. These published sources can be primary or secondary in nature, and it is important to include both in your work.

What are primary and secondary sources?

Primary sources provide straight access to your areas of interest. They give empirical evidence, and they are more reliable. Examples of such sources include

Interview content

Statistical data

Novels

Art, image, and painting works

Newspaper

Secondary sources bring indirect information and results from other sources. They explain, assimilate, and elucidate primary sources. Below are a few examples of secondary sources:

Reviews

Books

Essays

Journal articles

Primary source

A primary source gives you first-hand proof of processes, happenings, and people that you undertake in your research. They are usually the main target of your study.

If your work involves analyzing things in the past, primary sources produced at that time help you. These sources usually come from the participants of the study or work. For example, if you want to portray the picture of the Taj Mahal in India in 1980, you can use the photograph taken in 1980. The photograph is a primary source. Other examples include newspapers and letters. You can use primary sources for current research too. The experiments you perform and the interviews you conduct act as primary sources.

Secondary source

A secondary source evaluates, investigates, and elucidates the outcome of the primary sources. It helps to support your point of view in a study.

If you want to analyze and accumulate information related to your topic, you can refer to articles, books, and other related published sources. Similarly, reviews evaluate the information already presented in a published work. You need not always analyze the idea given in a secondary source; you can also use them as supporting evidence to justify your views.

Difference between a primary and a secondary source

The following examples explain the difference between a primary and a secondary source:

  • A poem is a primary source, whereas an article analyzing it is a secondary source.
  • Government policies are examples of primary sources, but the reviews and opinions about the policy are secondary sources.
  • Data of an election result are a primary source, while the report interpreting the data is a secondary source.
  • A sculpture is a primary source, but the catalog describing it is a secondary source.
  • Interview of a celebrity is primary whereas the biography of the celebrity is secondary.

Identifying a source as primary or secondary

It is easy to identify whether a source used is a primary or a secondary source. To identify if a source is primary or secondary, try answering the below questions:

Does the information come directly from a person involved in the study?

If the answer says that it is directly from a person who participated in the study, then your source is a primary source; otherwise, it is a secondary source.

Do I need to analyze a study myself for my research?

If the answer is “yes,” the study will become a primary source. If you want to use the study as a framework for constructing your study, then it is a secondary source.

Does the source provide empirical results?

If yes, the source is a primary source. If it evaluates or provides comments about the empirical result, it is a secondary source.

Advantages of using primary and secondary sources

Primary sources are more reliable. They:

  • Make your arguments very strong
  • Discover new concepts, ideas, and results
  • Enable you to make your study more authentic

Secondary sources help you gather information if you are unable to access primary sources. They:

  • Make you gain more background information
  • Support your concepts, ideas, and results
  • Provide information from primary sources if you do not have direct access

Secondary sources treated as primary sources

A secondary source is sometimes treated as a primary source if it becomes the main topic of your study. A secondary source that becomes a primary source can be techniques, people, or material. A few examples of a secondary source that acts as a primary source are given below:

If you want to analyze the results of an election, exit polls are secondary sources. However, if you want to study how exit polls are conducted, then exit polls become a primary source.

If you study how a language gets a classical status, the guideline used to grade them is a secondary source. However, if you want to study how the guideline is created, then it becomes a primary source.

Key takeaways

  • Primary sources provide straight access to your areas of interest. They give empirical evidence.
  • Secondary sources bring indirect information and results from other sources. They explain, assimilate, and elucidate primary sources.
  • A secondary source is sometimes treated as a primary source if it becomes the main topic of your study.
  • It is easy to identify whether a source used is a primary or a secondary source.

 

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