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Women's & Gender Studies

Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word "primary":

 1. Occurring or existing first in a sequence of events; belonging to the beginning or earliest stage of something; first in time.

A primary source is an original document or object, something that was created or written during the time that is being researched. It is first-hand information from someone who was present at the scene of action or witnessed an event when it occurred. It gives us an up, close and personal view of a particular event or time.

Examples of primary sources:


Artifacts and Relics such as pottery, furniture, clothing, coins, implements, etc.

Audio/Video Recordings


Census and Demographic Records

Creative works such as poetry, drama, fiction, music, art



Experiments, clinical trials

Government Documents

Historical documents such as charters, constitutions, etc.


Journal articles reporting original research, empirical data, statistics, etc.

Legal documents (laws and legislative hearings)

Letters and correspondences


Maps and Atlases (Those created at the time of the event such as battelfield maps created during a war are primary sources but those created later are secondary sources)


News footage

Official Records


Papers delivered at conferences

Personal narratives




Secondary Sources

What is a Secondary Source?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word "secondary":

Belonging to the second order in a series related by successive derivation, causation, or dependence; derived from, based on, or dependent on something else which is primary; not original, derivative.

A secondary source interprets and analyzes a primary source. These sources are one or two steps removed from the event or occurrence. They may include comments, discussions, reviews and explanations; they are considered second-hand sources because they are based on the primary source. A secondary source may contain quotes, graphics or pictures of primary sources in them.

Examples of Secondary Sources:



Books that discuss or analyze a topic




Indexes and Abstracts

Journal or magazine articles that interpret or discuss previous research findings

Newspaper articles that interpret a topic or event (Articles that report first-hand about a topic are considered primary sources).

Reviews of art, books, movies, plays, etc.


More Information about Primary and Secondary Sources

For more extensive and in-depth information about primary and secondary sources see Literature Librarian Winnie Shyam's Primary and Secondary Sources Research Guide