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ENG 274 WGS 274: Primary vs. Secondary

A guide to library resources for ENG 274/WGS 274

Primary vs. Secondary Sources: A Quick Lesson



  • Primary Sources

  • Primary sources are the "materials on a topic upon which subsequent interpretations or studies are based, anything from firsthand documents such as poems, diaries, court records, and interviews to research results generated by experiments, surveys, ethnographies, and so on."

    Primary sources are records of events as they are first described, without any interpretation or commentary. They are also sets of data, such as census statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted.

  • Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources, on the other hand, offer an analysis or a restatement of primary sources. They often attempt to describe or explain primary sources. Some secondary sources not only analyze primary sources, but also use them to argue a contention or to persuade the reader to hold a certain opinion.

    Examples of secondary sources include: dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and books and articles that interpret or review research works.


    Primary Source

    Secondary Source


    Original artwork

    Article critiquing the piece of art


    Slave diary

    Book about the Underground Railroad



    Treatise on a particular genre of poetry

    Political Science


    Essay on Native American land rights


    Videotape of a performance

    Biography of a playwright

    Reprinted from Bowling Green State University Library Instruction Web Page,