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Psychology: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

This subject guide will direct students enrolled in psychology courses to available library resources.

What's the difference?

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 record
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece

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

Information courtesy of Princeton University Libraries - http://www.princeton.edu/~refdesk/primary2.html

YouTube Video - Primary & Secondary Sources [3:17]

Courtesy of The Hartness Library - Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College.

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