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What are Primary Sources?

Last updated date: 29th Feb 2024
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Primary Source Meaning

Primary sources are the original documents, accounts and objects that provide us with direct evidence of past events and the people who were involved. In most cases, the primary source of data is unpublished and can be difficult to find. But one way to access them is through published collections of primary data in books, journals or newspaper articles. We'll also go over some examples of primary sources so you can get a better idea of what they look like. In this article, we'll outline what primary sources are and why they're important for your research.

Paquius Proculo's portrait

Paquius Proculo's Portrait

Examples of Primary Sources

The primary sources data are the documentary proof of history, original writings, or artifacts produced by witnesses or participants at the time of historical occurrences or even long afterward, as in memoirs and oral histories. Primary sources may consist of but are not limited to correspondence, diaries, journals, newspapers, maps, speeches, interviews, government documents, photos, audio or video recordings, born-digital materials (such as emails), research data, and objects or artifacts (such as works of art or ancient roads, buildings, tools, and weapons). 

The primary source of information sources provides historians with the foundational knowledge they need to interpret and study the past. Any kind of work can be a primary source. The main source can be any text, picture, video, audio recording, or anything created by a human object. Artefacts are ancient, human-made items. For historians and archaeologists, artefacts are important primary sources. A building, a tool, a weapon, a work of art, money, clothing, or music are all examples of artefacts. Original information about the past can also be found in old birth certificates, maps, population counts, newspapers, pictures, journals, and letters.

Animal-related movies and audio recordings can be used as primary sources for scientific research. A primary source for anyone researching a scientific discovery would be a laboratory notebook that has a record of that discovery.

Example of primary and secondary sources

Example of Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Source of Information

A primary source of information can be used by students of all ages to research a subject. A primary source can inspire numerous questions that can be investigated. Examining old clothing, for instance, could inspire one to consider issues like these: What components went into making this outfit? Why were these substances employed? Was this garment worn during a chilly or warm climate? How often did you wear it? Was there a specific person it was intended for?

Primary sources are the cornerstones of historical research and ought to serve as the basis for your interpretation and argument, whereas secondary sources ought to support and add to the primary sources. Instead of "plugging them in" to support your argument after the fact, use your primary sources to support your thesis and write based on them. In other words, the paper should be driven by primary sources, not the other way around. 

Regardless of whether your primary source was located online or in a printed source, it is crucial to provide comprehensive information about it. Briefly stated, primary sources are authentic records that were produced or acquired concurrently with the event under study. The main feature of the primary source of data is that it gives us complete information about the events or accidents that happened in the past.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are based on primary sources. It is the work that observes any historical event using primary sources. They are also a type of description of past events. 

Examples of secondary sources are books, speeches, etc.


Primary sources provide you with direct access to the topic you are learning about or investigating. They can express unique thinking, give you fresh information, and give you a first-person experience of an event or period. The study topic determines the kind of primary source that is employed. Data from interviews and experiments you conduct yourself can be used as a primary resource if the subject is recent and hot. If it's historical, you'd need to get it from people who were involved with the subject utilising writings and papers. In this article, we have explained primary sources' meaning and what are primary sources and secondary sources

FAQs on What are Primary Sources?

1. How do you use primary and secondary sources?

You would directly analyse a primary source in a research paper. Use secondary sources to support and shape your own thoughts or to test their arguments against fresh data.

To prevent plagiarism, both primary and secondary sources must be properly cited.

The research topic will determine whether a source is primary or secondary. Depending on how you look at it, one source could be primary or secondary.

For instance, a biography of Edgar Allen Poe would be a secondary source if the research was on his poems. However, it would be a key source if the study was focused on him as a historical character.

2. What distinguishes primary sources from secondary sources?

Secondary sources are papers, texts, photos, and artefacts concerning an event that were produced by someone who typically cited the primary sources for their knowledge, as opposed to primary sources, which are the actual records of an event written by first hand witnesses. Excellent examples of secondary sources are textbooks. Examples include interview transcripts, numerical data, and artistic creations. Using a primary source gives you immediate access to the subject of your study. Secondary sources offer second-hand data and analysis from other scholars. Journal articles, book reviews, and scholarly texts are a few examples.

3. Why do historians use primary resources?

Historians use primary resources because they are the raw evidence to analyse and find the incidence of the past. After that, they publish secondary resources.