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Beyond the Writing Handbook: Exploring All Library Resources for Writing Support: Primary vs. Secondary Resources

This guide is a companion to a faculty workshop presented on February 10, 2014. The LRC highlights resources to help support writing flag courses in the GC curriculum.

Understanding Resources

Depending on the nature of your research, the definition of a "primary source" can vary (Stebbins 62).  Historians may use newspaper articles or diary entries written by a person living during a particular time period while natural scientists would consider a research study/experiment that provides new knowledge a primary source.  An attorney would consider written laws or the constitution as primary documents.  "Books and articles that come right from the context of a subject, straight out of the horse's mouth...are primary sources" (Badke 12).  

Secondary sources synthesize or analyze primary sources (Stebbins 62).  The research paper you are writing for your English 112 class, which may cite both secondary and primary sources, is actually considered a secondary source.  Your research paper is arguing a point, but those points and evidence come from other resources that you are sythesizing and analyzing.   

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

*Courtesy of Hartness Library System

A brief comparison

PRIMARY Sources SECONDARY Sources
Text of Homer's Iliad A modern study of Homer's Iliad
A scientific study written by the researcher   Analysis of a researcher's experiment
Firsthand account by a witness of 9/11 Book on 9/11 by someone not there
Street person's account of street life Analysis of research on street people

(Chart, Badke 13)

Cited Sources:

Badke, William B.  Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog, 3rd ed. (2008). iUniverse, Inc. New York, NY 

Stebbins, Leslie F.  Student Guide to Research in the Digital Age: How to Locate and Evaluate Information Sources. (2006). Libraries Unlimited. Westport, CT.

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