This guide explains the differences between primary and secondary sources. Because the definitions can often change depending on the subject you are studying, ask your instructor if you have questions.
A primary source is a document or piece of evidence written or created during the time period you are studying. A primary source allows you to examine evidence firsthand without being affected by other opinions.
A secondary source describes or analyzes a primary source. These sources are one step removed from the actual event and allow you to understand what scholars and other experts know about your topic.
|Primary Source||Secondary Source|
|A 1901 passenger list of a ship carrying immigrants into Ellis Island||Book analyzing the immigrant experience at Ellis Island|
|The Pentagon Papers, an official report from the U.S. Dept. of Defense about Vietnam||Magazine article examining the impact of the The Pentagon Papers report on Americans' views on U.S. involvement in Vietnam|
|Nighthawks, a painting by artist Edward Hopper||A critique of the painting, Nighthawks, in an art magazine|
|A New York Times newspaper article of the JFK assassination from the time period, November 1963||The Wikipedia entry for the JFK assassination|
|State of the Union Address by the President of the United States||Newspaper article that critiques the State of the Union Address|
|Text of the No Child Left Behind Act||Magazine article that discusses schools failing to meet obligations of the No Child Left Behind Act|
|UW Board of Regents Meeting Minutes||Blog post that comments on activities of the UW Board of Regents meeting|
|Journal article on DNA research that explains the methodology and results of an experiment conducted by the researchers||A newspaper article that summarizes new DNA research|
|News footage of the September 11th terrorist attacks||Article examining people's reactions to the images of the September 11th terrorist attacks|
|A letter written by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War||Book that analyzes Lincoln's writings|
|The movie, The Wizard of Oz||Website examining the symbolism of the movie, The Wizard of Oz|
|The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. - book written by MLK that details his own life||King: A Biography - book written by a researcher that examines MLK's life|
|Brown County, WI wetlands map||Book on wetlands preservation|
|Slave diary from 1831||A book published in 2009 that examines the daily lives of slaves in the American South|
|A journal article on breast cancer where the researchers explain the methodology and results of their experiment||A journal article that provides commentary and reviews several research experiments studying breast cancer|