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ECO352H5: Special Topics in Economics: The Financial Crisis and the Actions of the Central Banks

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

When conducting research, the ability to distinguish between primary and secondary source material is essential. ‚Äč

Primary Sources

A primary source is a document that was created at the time of the event or subject you've chosen to study, or by people who were observers, or participants in that event or topic. What makes the source a primary source is when it was made, not what it is.

Primary sources are:

  • first-hand accounts of events
  • materials created by participants or witnesses of the event/s under study
  • original records created art the time that events occurred
  • raw data

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Official records: cabinet papers, diplomatic dispatches, legislation and case law, parish records, parliamentary debates, treaties, censuses and statistics
  • Published sources: newspapers, magazines, literature, songs, advertisements, interviews, speeches, memoirs, autobiographies, works of art, photographs, television and radio shows
  • Private sources: letters, wills, diaries, contracts, home video and audio recordings, receipts, leases, loans, birth and death certificates

Secondary Sources

Books written by scholars about a topic are secondary sources.

Secondary sources are:

  • 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