You've probably heard your instructors talking about primary and secondary resources at several points during your high school and college career, but maybe you're not quite clear on them or the definition seems a bit muddy when you go to apply it. You're not alone. Classifying a resource as primary or secondary isn't always as cut and dry as the examples used to simplify the definitions. Some resources contain both, such as newspapers and journals. In these cases you have to take each article on an individual basis and analyze it based on whether or not it's a firsthand account, a retelling, or a review, for example. It is also important at times to think about how you are using the resource. A contemporaneous account of a real person or event might be farcical, for example (think political cartoons and satires), where the information presented might not be literally what happened, but would be a good primary source on public opinion of that topic.
Continue below for some definitions and examples that should help you determine when you've got a primary resource in hand. Continue to the next page for some help in finding these primary resources.
A primary resource offers a firsthand and/or contemporaneous account of something. In this type of resource you are getting your information straight from the horses mouth. When in doubt, seek a second opinion from a librarian or your instructor. Some examples would be:
A secondary resource provides information based on things found in primary resources. These might present an accumulation of information from several resources like in a textbook or be about a specific resource, such as a third-person interpretation of a piece of artwork. These are secondhand accounts, so anything that is a retelling of a story, or a translation, for example, would be secondary. See some examples of secondary resources below: