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General Studies: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources - original, first-hand observations or accounts of events or experiments. May include speeches, interviews, diaries, newspaper articles, photographs, video, and archival materials.

Secondary Sources - most often interpretations or analyses of primary source information

Primary Sources

Primary resources are considered authoritative representations of a time period, event, object, person, or activity. They are most often created at the time an event or time period is occurring, though may be created later. Primary resources can be descriptive, they can report on events or discoveries, or show a first-hand account of the author’s experience. Primary resources are original pieces of research or evidence.      


Some examples of Primary Sources

  • archives and manuscript material
  • photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, films
  • journals, letters and diaries
  • speeches
  • scrapbooks
  • published books, newspapers and magazine clippings published at the time
  • government publications
  • oral histories
  • records of organizations
  • autobiographies and memoirs
  • printed ephemera
  • artifacts, e.g. clothing, costumes, furniture
  • research data, e.g. public opinion polls
  • Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Instagram pages

Secondary Sources

Secondary resources are typically created after an event has occurred or time period has passed. These resources can be scholarly or non-academic, and can be persuasive, interpretive, analytical, or evaluative in nature. Often, a secondary source attempts to evaluate or describe a primary resource from the author’s point of view.


Some examples of Secondary Sources

  • journal articles that comment on or analyse research
  • textbooks
  • dictionaries and encyclopaedias
  • books that interpret, analyse
  • political commentary
  • biographies
  • dissertations
  • newspaper editorial/opinion pieces
  • criticism of literature, art works or music


Some resources can be both primary AND secondary!

A Selection of Primary Sources

Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Studies Digitised collections: We care for a growing collection of more than 1 million items, dedicated to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories.

Australian Screen: The site brings together material from the vast collections of the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Archives of Australia, the ABC, SBS, and AIATSIS in a unique collaboration. All material is made available with the permission of the copyright holders.

National Museum of AustraliaThis site allows visitors to browse and discover the National Museum of Australia’s online collection. About 40 per cent of the collection is available online. New object records and sets are added regularly and existing information is being enhanced. The Museum’s collection covers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, Australia’s history and society since 1788 and the interaction of people with the environment.

Online newspapers

Proquest LibGuides

SDA Resources

State Library of NSW 

Trove: Search Trove to explore amazing collections from Australian libraries, universities, museums, galleries and archives. It’s free and available online all day, every day.