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Information is EVERYWHERE! But what information do you need to compile a good research paper? What kind of information do you need to make informed decisions? Understanding the different types of information sources and their purpose is the first step in this process. This graphic from Portland Community College illustrates the different types of sources and information that we come across in our daily and academic lives:
Primary Sources: defined as something created at the time of the event. Primary sources are usually first-hand accounts of something that has happened. Think about it this way... if someone from the time period could actually lay their hands on it (newspaper, diary, photograph, etc) then it is probably a primary source.
Examples of primary source material:
Newspaper reports that are reporting at the time of the event ON the event
Visual media like photographs, video, or even audio that are created during the event
Data, such as raw datasets, census information, etc. *Note: this is the raw information that has not been analyzed yet.
Texts of laws
Secondary Sources: defined as sources that describe, report, analyze, and/or quote from original primary sources. Secondary sources are not created at the time of the event, but rather interpret the event through the use of primary sources.
Examples of secondary source material:
Popular and scholarly articles on a topic, event, or even a piece of art/performance
Books about a person, topic, or event
Data analysis and interpretation (usually used within scholarly articles and books)
Where it can get weird...
Sometimes secondary sources can be primary sources and this is where you need to think critically.
Example: a high school textbook would most often be considered a secondary source because it is describing a topic and not contributing any original research to the topic. HOWEVER, if you were going to do research on the history of textbooks in high school curriculums, then this textbook could be used as a primary source.
Need more help? Here is a link to a video by Imagine Easy Solutions that gives an overview of the differences in type and use for each: