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ENGL 102 - Godfrey

Information in the Digital Age

PRIMARY SOURCES   SECONDARY SOURCES
Original, first-hand information about a topic that comes from live events, experiences or experiments in which the author was directly involved   Compiled, second-hand information about a topic that comes from events, experiences, or experiments to which the author(s) had no direct connection

Types of sources: 

  • Personal Writing, such as Memoirs, Journals, Diaries, Letters, Autobiographies, etc.
  • Direct Communication, such as Speeches, Interviews, Live Presentations
  • Original Research Reports, such as published Experiment Results or Case Studies
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that describe current events
 

Types of sources: 

  • Materials about a topic, such as history books, biographies, most mainstream "pop-science" books, documentaries, etc.
  • Summaries, Literature Reviews, Meta-Analysis of other researchers' experiment results
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that mention the published or intellectual work of others
Frequent terms in academic sources: Original research, case study   Frequent terms in academic sources: Summary, literature review, analysis

To identify a primary or secondary source, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are the authors and what kind of organization do they work for? Most authoritative sources have the author and their professional affiliations listed at the beginning of the document.  If the work is completed by practicing professionals in a discipline, it is more likely to be a primary source.  If the work is completed by a single journalist or writer for a newspaper or magazine, it is more likely to a secondary source.
  • How did they discover this information?  The article may be labeled with the term "original research" or "review" to show how they compiled the content.  Read the abstract or first few paragraphs.  Does it describe a test with methods and results, or does it only mention studies conducted by other people?

Which Sources Should I Use for an Academic Paper?