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Michigan State University

ISS 335: Gender, Sex, and Science: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources provide direct or firsthand evidence about an event, person, or object. These sources are contemporary to the events and people described. In the context of historical research, primary sources are sources that were created during the specific time period being studied. In the sciences, primary sources are often studies designed by researchers who have collected statistical data, conducted experiments, and/or made observations.


Some examples of primary sources include: 

  • Newspaper articles
  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Novels, poems
  • Government documents
  • Statistical data
  • Audio and video recordings

Secondary sources were produced sometime after an event took place. Unlike primary sources, secondary sources do not provide firsthand evidence. Instead, they provide information that has been analyzed or interpreted in some way. Secondary sources often analyze information that has been gathered from various primary sources.


Examples of secondary sources include:

  • Book reviews
  • Scholarly articles (those that interpret or analyze other sources)
  • Literature reviews
  • Biographies

Finding Primary Sources Online: Selected Resources

Understanding the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources

Below are some additional resources that explain the differences between primary and secondary sources and key questions you can ask to determine if a source falls into one category or another. 

Michigan State University