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History Resources at the UTM Library


Primary Source

Secondary Source


A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event or subject you have chosen to study, or by people who were observers of, or participants in that event or topic.

The medium of the primary source can be anything, including written texts, statistics, objects, buildings, films, paintings, cartoons, etc. What makes the source a primary source is when it was made, not what it is.


Books written by scholars about a topic are secondary sources.

Scholars' introductions to, analyses of, and editorial comments on collections of primary documents are also secondary sources.

  • first-hand accounts of event
  • materials created by participants or witnesses of the event/s under study
  • original records created at the time that events occurred
  • raw data
  • works that discuss a subject, but which are written after the time that the event/s occurred (by someone other than an eyewitness)
  • works that contain explanations/interpretations/analysis/judgments/discussions of past events

Types of Primary Sources

Official records Cabinet papers, diplomatic dispatches, legislation and case law, parish records, parliamentary debates, ambassador's reports, treaties, censuses, and statistics
Published sources Newspapers, magazines, literature, songs, hymns, advertisements, interviews, speeches, memoirs, autobiographies, pamphlets/treatises, works of art, photographs, television and radio shows
Private sources Letters, wills, diaries, contracts (marriage, purchase, etc.), home video and audio recordings, receipts, leases, loans, petitions, birth and death certificates

Non-Scholarly/Popular Source v. Academic/Scholarly Source


Non-Scholarly/Popular Source

Academic/Scholarly Source


A journalist or feature writer; names are not always noted.

A respected scholar or researcher in the field; an expert in the topic; names and affiliations are always noted.


General public

Scholars or researchers in the field or those interested in the topic at a research level; university students.


To entertain or inform in a broad, general sense.

To share with other scholars the results of primary research & experiments.


Articles (usually brief) are written in simple language—no specialized knowledge is needed in order to read an article.

Articles are glossy and attention-grabbing, using many adjectives, and generally contain (unrelated) photos and great quantities of advertisements.

Language is formal, analytical, and academic; usually contains discipline-specific jargons.


Often presented in story format, with anecdotes from other people.

Information often second or third-hand, and the originality of the source is often obscure.

Articles (are supposed to) present original research studies.

Formal presentation of scholarly work in a standard style; often an abstract at the beginning of the article.

Articles may have section headings, such as literature review, methodology, results, discussion/further study.


Very uncommon; text may contain vague referrals to "a study published at..." or "researchers found that..." with no other details about that information.

Standard element; references are always cited and expected; can also be called "works cited," or "bibliographies;" text often contains footnotes.


A commercial publisher; self-published.

A university press; a professional association or known (independent) scholarly publisher.

Review Process

Articles are reviewed by the editorial staff, including copyediting, proofreading, etc.

A fact-checking and verification by another expert are rarely available.

Scholarly articles go through a peer review (referee) process where other scholars who are experts in the field evaluate the content of the article; copyediting and proofreading are provided after the editorial/peer-review process.

— Writing both non-scholarly and scholarly pieces of writing requires a set of skills, knowledge and experience. However, a review process in academia (e.g., Duke University Press ➤ ➤ Current Authors - Review Process) makes a significant difference in the quality of the contents.
— Reports brought by correspondents or on-the-scene reporters are often valuable and bring different values and viewpoints to the information landscape.

Source: Adapted from the Valparaiso University Library