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Primary and Secondary Sources

This guide will explain what primary and secondary sources are and how to find them.

How do I know if my article is a secondary source?

It can be harder to determine if an information source is a secondary article. It is important to remember that secondary sources provide background information and discussion on your topic. They give you a broader perspective and analyze the event/topic/work/person you are researching. For humanities topics, such as history, secondary sources will be written after an event occurs .


To determine if your information source is a valid secondary source, try asking yourself the following questions:

  • How does the author know about the subject? Is it from personal experience or first-hand knowledge or is the information based on what others have written?
  • Was the author present at the scene when the event took place? Does the author know the person or subject he or she is writing about?
  • Is the author interpreting or analyzing or discussing an event that happened?
  • Does the author cite other works written about the topic?
  • What is the publication date? Is it around the time the event occurred or was it written much later?
  • If it is an experiment that is being discussed, was the experiment conducted by the author or is the author discussing someone else's experiment?

Secondary Sources in the Sciences

Check your articles carefully! Literature review articles are secondary sources. However, article called systematic reviews, or Meta-analysis can be either primary or secondary. If you working on an assignment and need primary and/or secondary articles, please consult your professor to determine the type of source. 

Finding Databases

You will find some secondary source materials in many of our databases. Use the link below to see a list of all of our databases. Use the dropdown labeled "All Subjects" to sort by a specific subject.