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BIOL 415/515: Primary VS Secondary

Course Guide for Darwin & the Origin of Species

What is a primary source

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

What is a secondary source

A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

Primary vs Seconday

Other Videos on Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary VS Secondary General

Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
Original works of literature, art, music Criticism of original work
Newspaper accounts of events, by someone on the scene Newspaper editorial
Diary, autobiography, letters, oral testimony Biography
Historical documents, such as laws or treaties Historical commentary
Television show or motion picture Review
Raw data from questionnaires Social science article based on another's data
Observation/experiment Scientific article based on another's experiment

Search by keyword for Primary Sources in Worldcat Discovery

You can search the Web Catalog to find direct references to primary source material. Perform a keyword search for your topic and add one of the words below:
(these are several examples of words that would identify a source as primary)

  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • early works
  • interviews
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches
  • letters
  • documents