PRIMARY VS SECONDARY SOURCES

Criteria Use Primary Sources To Help You... Use Secondary Sources To Help You...
UNDERSTAND Gain a contemporary understanding of a subject Get background information about or a synopsis of a subject
INTERPRET Interpret information YOURSELF (Note: some primary sources can be difficult to understand) Get help from scholars who might be more specialized in a subject (Note: be aware of possible source bias)
WRITE Write an essay that requires you to express your original understanding of a subject Write an essay that requires you to report on what others have said about a subject (and perhaps defend YOUR informed opinion)
  • Most researchers will benefit from using a combination of primary and secondary sources
  • Some materials share features of BOTH primary and secondary sources
    -Ex. The Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick by Herman Melville contains an original novel (primary sources) and scholarly essays about that novel (secondary sources)
  • Some materials could be considered primary OR secondary, depending upon the research focus
    -Ex. The article "After 9/11: Goal Disruption, Emotional Support, and Psychological Health in a Lower Exposure Sample," by MacGeorge et al., a scholarly research study published in 2007
    -Secondary source for a history paper on the significance of 9/11)
    -Primary source for a medical paper on post-traumatic stress reactions to acts of terrorism
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