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A Research Guide for Beginners

A Guide for New Students

Defining primary vs. secondary sources

A primary source is a document created during the time period of your research subject, about your research subject.  These documents are directly connected with the events or people being researched. 

A secondary source is a document created at a later time period, often much later than the time period of the event being researched, by someone who did not experience said event.  These documents have no direct personal connection with the events or people being researched, but they may benefit from being able to put the event “in context” or perspective.

Chart listing examples of primary and secondary sources.

You may notice that the list of examples for primary sources is longer than for secondary.  Don’t let that fool you.  While there may be more types of primary sources, secondary sources are the majority of documents you will come across in everyday life.

     Primary Sources                                                                     Secondary Sources

Data and Original Research


Diaries and Journals


Speeches and Interviews


Letters and Memos

Monographs (a specialized book or article)

Autobiographies and Memoirs

Most journal articles (unless written at the time of the event)

Books or articles or news stories written at the time of the event

Most published books (unless written at the time of the event)

Government Documents from that period

Abstracts of articles

Census Statistics

Paraphrased quotations

Organizational Records from that period


Documentaries that rely on primary source materials




Art (from the time period)

Maps (from the time period)

Internet communications (including listservs and emails)

Any of the above reprinted in the original format and language

Where to find Primary Sources Online?

The Concordia University Texas Library also provides access to many digital primary resources.  Some primary sources are freely available on the Internet.  To view examples, visit our Recommended Websites page.

CTX has its own digital archives and most of these materials are also primary sources from our institution’s early years when we were primarily a boy’s high school.

All materials copyright Concordia University Texas. Written permission to publish or display reproductions of materials held by Concordia University Texas must be secured from Concordia as owner of the physical property. For more information, please contact