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Using Secondary Sources in an English Essay

  • The English essay as research essay
  • Finding good secondary sources for English essays
  • Tips on using secondary sources
  • Effective summarizing and paraphrasing
  • Documenting sources in MLA style (Modern Languages Association)

The English Essay as Research Essay

While much of what you will write in an English essay is based on your own analysis of a text, there is certainly a place for research and the use of secondary sources in an English essay. Research helps you to define or explain

  • word meanings
  • literary allusions
  • cultural, political, religious and historical background
  • authors’ biographies
  • literary critics’ interpretations

These explanations can all be helpful in relating a literary work to broader contexts, in explaining who mythical characters are, in understanding the influence and effect of a work on readers and other writers, and so on.

As soon as you use your first secondary source, you are venturing into research. Research essays are based on information and opinion that you find and read; however, this information and opinion  need to be synthesized and assimilated by  you , so you can express, in turn, what you know and think about the subject.

Using Secondary Sources

Some literary secondary sources provide background information on literary texts, such as a text’s reception by critics on its publication, or events in the author’s life that may have influenced the text, and so on. However, you may find that you turn to secondary sources more for critics’ interpretations of the texts you are writing about than for background information.

Finding Good Secondary Sources for English Essays

  • Many instructors provide lists, sometimes in their course outlines, of good secondary sources. Your texts, as well, may have forewords, afterwords, introductions, glossaries, background information, and further reading lists. Get to know your texts well.
  • Critical, edited editions of a literary work usually provide a wealth of references to secondary sources in the form of "further reading" lists.
  • Use the library online catalogue to find a particular author’s works; the catalogue may provide a link for "nearby items on shelf" which you can explore for additional works by the author or books by critics on the author's works. You can also browse the stacks where the author's works are located to find relevant articles and books.
  • Online Indexes – Indexes are like search engines, but they search only for articles that have been published in academic journals/periodicals and other academic sources. You can search an index for relevant articles. Many indexes make full-text articles available online, some don’t and you have to find the print periodical to read the article in full. They are the best way to search for articles.
  • Related Websites – The subject guide also lists websites related to the study of English literature. Take some time to browse through the sites listed. Note how they differ from essay selling sites in their emphasis on the free dissemination of knowledge and on the people and institutions behind the knowledge.
  • Reference Books - The subject guide also lists all the reference books pertinent to English and where they are in the reference section of the library.
  • Google Scholar can get you started finding scholarly sources online.

Many undergraduate English essays do not require extensive use of secondary sources. Critical editions of literary works, the library stacks, online indexes and subject guides should yield plenty with which to work. Finding good secondary sources is, of course, only a first step. The second step is to use them properly.

Tips on Using Secondary Sources

  • Use what the critics have to say to support your own thesis. That is why it is so important to follow good essay writing procedures and think things through as much as possible on your own first.
  • Sometimes the well runs dry, and you just can’t come up with much on your own. Use a critic sparingly to spark an idea, but then try to run with it yourself. You will have to cite the critic for the idea, but how you go on to apply it will be yours.
  • Sometimes you come up with something yourself and then find a critic saying the same thing. It’s still your idea, and you can present it as your own and use the critic to add support and authority. Sometimes you may disagree with a critic’s interpretation. Feel free to use the critic’s argument as a starting point and then present your own ideas in opposition.
  • The main source of support and evidence for your points is the primary text. Try to draw your conclusive evidence from the primary text, the work in question.
  • Keep the idea of synthesis in mind. A synthesis is a whole that was created by mixing together separate parts. Some of the ideas in your essay may be yours backed up by evidence from the primary text, and some belong to various critics, but the whole is created by mixing the parts together. You, as synthesizer and essay-writer, properly subordinate the critics, and you use them so they can best help support your thesis.

Remember, yours is the intelligence that mixes together what you think and what others think (by always telling the reader when it is you speaking and when it is someone else and who that someone else is). Yours is the voice that should most strongly come through.

Read more about effective summarizing and paraphrasing to avoid plagiarism.

  • Understanding The English Essay
  • Developing a Topic and Thesis for an English Essay
  • Drafting the English Essay
  • Glossary of Common Formal Elements of Literature
  • Documenting Sources in MLA Style (Modern Languages Association)

Secondary Sources: Definition and Examples

Matt Ellis

Secondary sources are works that analyze, interpret, or merely describe historical or scientific events. They’re written based on firsthand accounts without being firsthand accounts themselves. Secondary sources draw on the data and experiences from primary sources to reassess the information and draw conclusions by combining them with information from other sources. 

Because primary sources aren’t always accessible to everyone, secondary sources often provide a simpler and consolidated version of the same vital information. Below, we give a more precise definition of secondary sources and explain how to use them in academic writing , along with a list of examples of secondary sources.  Give your writing extra polish Grammarly helps you communicate confidently Write with Grammarly

What are secondary sources?

Unlike primary sources, which are created by people with firsthand experience in a topic, secondary sources analyze, interpret, and describe the firsthand accounts of other people to make them more accessible or to give context to an event. If a historian translates an ancient Egyptian diary and writes a book about what they discovered, the actual diary is an example of a primary source, and the historian’s book is an example of a secondary source. 

Although primary sources are more reliable and authoritative, secondary sources are just as essential to scientific and educational communities. Not everyone has access to primary sources, and even if they do, they might not be able to make sense of them (for example, if the source is written in a dead language or includes data sets). Secondary sources repackage the primary source’s key information in a way that’s both easier to understand and capable of mass production to reach more people. 

Moreover, creators of secondary sources are often specialists themselves, so they’re able to add new insights that the reader might not have gotten from analyzing the primary source alone. Secondary sources often combine different reference materials to point out connections and patterns, revealing new discoveries that a single primary source alone wouldn’t show. That makes both primary and secondary sources crucial to good research. 

Secondary source examples 

What are secondary sources in the pool of all research materials? Here’s a quick list of the most common types of secondary sources researchers can use: 

  • Books aggregating information on a specific topic 
  • Educational textbooks
  • Thesis papers and dissertations
  • Reviews and critiques of artwork
  • Biographies ( not autobiographies)
  • Reports collecting data from other studies
  • Nonpersonal essays and editorials
  • Articles that interpret preexisting information, as opposed to breaking news

How to find a secondary source

One of the main advantages of using secondary sources for research is that they’re readily available. It’s much easier to borrow or buy a book about Roman architecture than it is to fly to Italy and look at Roman ruins! 

Secondary sources are abundant, so you can find them in all the popular research hubs, such as libraries , bookstores , news sites , and online databases . Sometimes the problem is they’re too abundant, and you’re not sure which secondary source on a particular subject to choose. Try finding recommendations from experts, like teachers, or reading reviews online to see which secondary sources are best for your topic. 

How to evaluate a secondary source

In addition to determining whether a source is primary or secondary, you also want to evaluate its reliability. People with biases or hidden agendas can misinterpret data from primary sources for their own self-serving goals, so you have to be careful when choosing your sources. 

For starters, check the source’s bibliography . Most secondary sources list their own sources in a bibliography, whereas primary sources don’t need bibliographies because they are the source. The presence of a bibliography is the quickest way to identify a secondary source. 

Another suggestion is to look at the creator; if they’re not directly involved in the events of the topic, it’s a secondary source. Regardless of whether the source is primary or secondary, you should still assess whether the creator is trustworthy. Do some digging to see if they have any motives for falsifying or skewing information or misleading their audience. 

Cross-referencing the information is a good way to test the accuracy of a secondary source. Check to see if the information from the source in question matches what your other, previously verified sources say. 

Lastly, there’s a lot to be said about where you find your secondary sources. School libraries are usually good about filtering out untrustworthy sources, compared to, say, a random website on page seven of your search results. If you’re ever in doubt, check the cited materials in a source’s bibliography.

How to use a secondary source

Though they’re not primary sources, secondary sources still need to be cited properly in research papers . Even if you paraphrase a secondary source instead of copying it word for word, you still need to credit it to avoid plagiarism. 

The way you cite a secondary source depends on the style guide you’re using. The three most common style guides for academics are MLA , APA , and Chicago , and each has its own particular rules and requirements for citing just about  any  kind of source, including  PDFs ,  websites ,  speeches , and  TV shows . . Keep in mind that you must cite your sources both in the text and at the end in the bibliography. 

While all three styles are considered equal, refer to your assignment or course requirements to see which one is preferred. 

Secondary sources FAQs

Secondary sources are analyses, interpretations, or descriptions of events or topics taken from firsthand accounts, but they’re not firsthand accounts themselves. Secondary sources are contrasted to primary sources, which are created by people directly involved. 

Where can you find secondary sources?

Secondary sources are abundant and can be found in libraries, bookstores, news sites, and online databases. 

How do you use secondary sources?

Just like primary sources, secondary sources need to be cited correctly to avoid plagiarism. The rules for proper citation vary depending on which style guide you’re using, typically APA , MLA , or Chicago . 

What are some examples of secondary sources?

The most common examples of secondary sources are books that collect information from various primary sources, including textbooks. Other common examples of secondary sources include biographies (but not autobiographies), art reviews, thesis papers and dissertations, reports that gather data from other studies, and nonpersonal essays. 

example of essay secondary sources


Secondary Sources Essays

Secondary sources.

Truth of Secondary Sources In the news, people do not completely know that what they are reading is correct. This is the sad truth for any secondary source of information, such as magazines, articles, newspapers, etc. No secondary source of information holds the complete truth as does original primary source. The sources can still possess similarities to each other, but the point is how truthful is the secondary source to the primary source of information. To show how secondary sources of information

Primary Secondary Sources

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Primary And Secondary Sources Essay

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Secondary Sources Of Law Essay

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Diet Pills: The Miraculous Weight Loss Formula?

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Teaching Strategy and Policy

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Extermination Camps

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example of essay secondary sources

Primary and Secondary Sources: A Comprehensive Guide

example of essay secondary sources

Did you know that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 revolutionized our understanding of ancient texts and biblical history? These ancient manuscripts, dating back over two millennia, were found in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea in Israel. Containing texts from the Hebrew Bible, as well as other Jewish writings, the Dead Sea Scrolls serve as a primary source of immense historical and religious significance. This remarkable find showcases the power of primary sources in shedding light on centuries-old events and beliefs, prompting us to explore what is the difference between primary and secondary sources in the pursuit of knowledge.

Primary and Secondary Sources: Short Summary

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the fascinating realm of historical research, uncovering the invaluable role played by primary sources—those direct witnesses to the events of the past—and their counterpart, secondary sources, which provide a deeper understanding and analysis of these primary materials. Whether you're a student, a researcher, or simply a curious soul seeking to unravel the mysteries of history, this guide will equip you with the tools and examples to navigate the realm of primary and secondary sources with confidence.

What is a Primary Source: Unraveling the Essence

A primary source refers to original, firsthand accounts or data that provide unique insights into a particular event or topic. These sources can include letters, diaries, photographs, interviews, surveys, or raw data.

They are invaluable because they offer a direct connection to the subject matter, giving researchers the opportunity to analyze and interpret information from the most authentic perspective.

Primary source examples may include:

  • Historical documents like letters, speeches, or official government records
  • Personal accounts such as diaries or memoirs
  • Original research studies or experiments
  • Artifacts or physical objects from a specific time period or culture
  • Original photographs or videos captured during an event

What are Secondary Sources: Exploring the Foundations

Secondary sources are documents or materials that interpret, analyze, or summarize information from primary sources. They provide a foundational understanding of a topic by drawing upon primary sources and offering expert insights and perspectives. Examples of secondary sources include textbooks, scholarly articles, biographies, and review articles.

Secondary sources are valuable in research because they offer a broader context and analysis of the information found in primary sources. They help researchers gain a deeper understanding of a subject, identify patterns or trends, and evaluate the credibility and reliability of the information. Secondary sources are especially useful when researching complex or specialized topics that require expert interpretation.

According to our research paper writing service , some advantages of using secondary sources include the following:

  • Accessibility: Secondary sources are often readily available and easily accessible through libraries, databases, and online platforms.
  • Time-saving: Secondary sources provide condensed and synthesized information, saving researchers time and effort in collecting and analyzing primary sources.
  • Contextualization: Secondary sources offer a broader context for understanding primary sources, providing historical, social, or cultural background to the research topic.
  • Analysis and interpretation: Secondary sources often analyze and interpret primary source data, offering different perspectives and expert opinions.

Difference between Primary and Secondary Sources

Understanding the difference between the examples of primary and secondary sources is essential for conducting thorough research.

Primary sources are original materials that provide firsthand accounts or direct evidence of an event, topic, or period. They include documents, letters, diaries, interviews, photographs, and artifacts. These sources offer unique insights and perspectives from the time period being studied. For instance, when writing a poetry analysis essay example , a primary source could be the actual poem itself. Analyzing the words, themes, and literary techniques used in the poem provides a direct engagement with the poet's original work, allowing for a deeper understanding and interpretation of their artistic expression.

On the other hand, secondary sources interpret, analyze, and summarize information from primary sources. They are created by individuals who were not present during the events they are discussing. Secondary sources include textbooks, academic articles, books, documentaries, and reviews. They provide a broader understanding of a topic and often offer critical analysis and synthesis of multiple primary sources.

Here's a quick summary of the differences between primary and secondary sources:

Primary and Secondary Sources

When to Use Primary and Secondary Sources

Knowing when to use primary and secondary sources is essential in conducting thorough and reliable research. To help you navigate this important decision, let's explore some considerations and examples of primary and secondary sources:

Primary Sources:

  • When seeking firsthand accounts or original data related to an event, period, or topic.
  • When conducting historical or sociological research, primary sources provide direct evidence from the time period or individuals involved.
  • When studying original research reports or scientific experiments.
  • When analyzing personal interviews or diaries that offer valuable insights and perspectives.

Secondary Sources:

  • When wanting to understand and interpret primary sources from a different perspective or context.
  • When seeking expert analysis and interpretation of primary sources.
  • When building upon previous research and incorporating established scholarly knowledge into your own work.
  • When looking for comprehensive literature reviews or summaries of research on a particular topic.

Furthermore, if you're in search of a flawless thesis statement example for your research, we have you covered on that front as well!

Primary and Secondary Source Examples

As you already know, primary sources offer firsthand accounts or original data, while secondary sources provide analysis and interpretation of primary sources. Here are some examples of each:

Primary and Secondary Sources

How to Determine If a Source is Primary or Secondary

Determining whether a source is a primary or secondary source can sometimes be a bit challenging, but there are some key factors to consider. Here are some ways to determine if a source is primary or secondary:

  • Date of Publication: Primary sources are typically created close to the time of the event or period being studied, while secondary sources are usually written after the fact.
  • Author's Perspective: Primary sources are often written by people who were directly involved in the event or period, while secondary sources are usually written by researchers or historians analyzing the primary sources.
  • Intended Audience: Primary sources are usually intended for a specific audience at the time they were created, while secondary sources are typically created for a broader audience.
  • Content: Primary sources contain firsthand accounts, original data, or direct evidence of the event or period in question, while secondary sources interpret, analyze, or critique primary sources.

Understanding the distinction between primary and secondary sources can also be instrumental when crafting introductions for essays . By clearly stating the sources you will be using and their respective roles, you set the stage for a well-structured and credible essay that engages readers and showcases your research prowess. Remember to also consider the context and purpose of your primary and secondary sources in order to make an informed decision.

Ever Wondered What Lies Beyond the Realms of Conventional Research?

Equipped with an arsenal of compelling primary and secondary sources, we'll unravel the mysteries surrounding your burning question!

Primary and Secondary Sources: Which One is Better in Research

When it comes to research, the question of whether primary or secondary sources are better is not a matter of superiority but rather the relevance and purpose of the research.

Primary sources provide firsthand information or original data that comes directly from the source. They have a sense of immediacy and authenticity, making them valuable for historical research, sociological studies, or analyzing original documents. Examples of primary sources include diaries, letters, interviews, surveys, and eyewitness accounts.

On the other hand, secondary sources interpret, analyze, or summarize information from primary sources. They are created by someone who did not directly experience or witness the events or phenomena being discussed. Secondary sources include textbooks, journal articles, scholarly journals, and books that provide analysis or commentary on a particular topic.

The choice between primary and secondary sources depends on the research goals and the depth of analysis required. Primary sources are essential for original research, while secondary sources provide a broader understanding of a topic by incorporating multiple perspectives and expert analysis. Ultimately, the best approach is often a combination of both primary and secondary source examples, using them in tandem to paint a comprehensive and well-rounded picture.

In the meantime, you can enhance your academic writing by learning how to write transition sentences !

What Are Some Examples of Primary Sources?

Here are some more examples of primary sources:

  • Historical speeches and documents
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Court records and legal documents
  • Maps and geographical surveys
  • Personal journals and diaries of historical figures
  • Works of art, such as paintings or sculptures, from the time period
  • Correspondence between individuals or groups
  • Census records and population surveys
  • Musical compositions and scores from the era
  • Advertisements and promotional materials from the time period

Why Do I Need to Use Both Primary and Secondary Sources in My Research?

Using a combination of primary and secondary sources allows you to corroborate information, identify patterns, and develop a more well-rounded perspective on your research topic.

Firstly, primary sources offer an unfiltered perspective from the time period being studied, allowing you to access the original information, thoughts, and experiences of the people involved. This firsthand information can be invaluable in understanding the context, motivations, and intricacies of the subject matter.

However, primary sources may be limited in their scope or biased due to the perspectives of the individuals involved. This is where secondary sources come into play. Secondary sources are scholarly works that analyze and interpret primary sources. They provide critical analysis, contextualization, and synthesis of information from multiple primary sources. By consulting secondary sources, you gain a broader understanding of the topic, access different interpretations, and benefit from the expertise and research of other scholars.

Is a Newspaper Article a Primary or Secondary Source?

A newspaper article can be both a primary and a secondary source, depending on the context and purpose of your research.

If you are examining a newspaper article from the time period being studied to gain insight into contemporary events, attitudes, or public opinion, it is considered a primary source. It provides a direct snapshot of the news and information available at that specific moment.

However, if you are using a newspaper article from the past as a source for historical analysis or to support your arguments, it would be considered a secondary source. In this case, the article is being used as a reference or piece of evidence to support or discuss a larger topic or historical event.

What Defines a Primary Source?

The key defining characteristic of a primary source is its proximity to the event or time period being researched, providing direct access to the original information and perspectives. Understanding the difference between primary and secondary sources is crucial in conducting thorough and reliable research, as primary sources offer immediate access to original information, while secondary sources provide analysis, interpretation, and synthesis of primary sources.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, understanding the importance of primary and secondary sources is like having a secret key to unlock a treasure chest of knowledge. By using both types of sources in your research, you get to dive deep into the past and discover firsthand accounts and different perspectives. Primary sources take you right to the heart of historical events, connecting you directly with the people and moments that shaped history. Secondary sources, on the other hand, act as friendly guides, helping you make sense of the primary sources by analyzing and interpreting them.

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  • What are Primary and Secondary Sources?
  • Using Summary
  • Make Your Sources Speak

What Are Primary and Secondary Sources?

A primary source is a source that you are analyzing as the writer. In other words, there is no mediary between you and the text; you are the one doing the analysis.

Some examples of primary sources:

A secondary source , then, is a source that has also done analysis of the same (or a similar) topic. You will then use this source to discuss how it relates to your argument about the primary source. A secondary source is a mediary between you and the primary source. Secondary sources can also help your credibility as a writer; when you use them in your writing, it shows that you have done research on the topic, and can enter into the conversation on the topic with other writers.

Some examples of secondary sources:

Summary: When and How Do I Use It?

  One of the important distinctions to make when coming to terms with a text is knowing when to summarize it, when to paraphrase it, and when to quote it. Here’s what Joseph Harris, author of the textbook Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts ,  has to say:

  “Summarize when what you have to say about a text is routine and quote when it is more contentious” (21).

In other words, quote when you need to rely on the voice of the writer, when you need the language of the text to help you make a point. Otherwise, try to use paraphrase or summary, so that your ideas are still the main focus.

 Summarizing a text can distract your reader from your argument, especially if you rely on lengthy summaries to capture a source in a nutshell. However, it can also prove an effective rhetorical tool: you just need to know when to use it.

You can use summary in the following ways:  

         - When the source offers important background about your ideas

       - When you need to provide your readers with an overview of a source’s entire argument before analyzing certain ideas from it

       - When the source either supports your thesis, or when it offers a position you want to argue against or analyze more in-depth

Here is a sample summary. What do you notice about it?

Ryuko Kubota argues in “Ideologies of English in Japan” that the debate over English’s place in the Japanese language disappeared with the militaristic rule of the 1930s and 1940s, when Japan rejected and/or suppressed the learning of English and other languages in favor of heavy nationalism. However, he adds that the debate returned during America’s occupation of Japan and has periodically been a topic for debate since.  Japanese politicians have always seen English as an important tool for Japan’s success as an industrial nation on a global scale. However, instead of molding itself to the English of the Western world, Japan has integrated English to fit its ideologies, to serve its own needs; indeed, to become part of the Japanese language.

1. This is a succinct summary; the entire summary is only three sentences.

2. The final sentence of the paragraph is the writer's attempt to make a connection between the article and her own ideas for her paper. This is an important step in using summary; it's important to always show the reader how/why the summary is important/relevant.

Paraphrasing: When/How/Why Should I Do It?

Paraphrasing gives you the room to condense a text’s ideas into your own words.  You can use this, for example, to rewrite a definition, to emphasize important points, or to clarify ideas that might be hard for the reader to understand if you quote the original text.

When you paraphrase, remember that you still need to cite the source in-text!

Depending on your field and the style guide your field follows, you may be required to paraphrase more than quote or summarize. Make sure you are familiar with the writing conventions for your field. APA, for example, draws much more on paraphrase than MLA.

Example of a Paraphrase

Let’s look at an example of a paraphrase.  Note that here the author of this paraphrase has used the author’s name first as an attributive tag – she is letting the reader know who wrote this.  She then goes on to put the writer’s ideas into her own words, but acknowledges directly where the ideas came from by using the in-text citation at the end of the second sentence.

    - This is a paraphrase for MLA; in APA, the year would come after Honna's name in parentheses.

In source-based or synthesis writing, we try to not only express our ideas using our own voice, but to also express our ideas through the voices of those we are citing. In their book Wriiting Analytically , Rosenwasser and Stephen offer six strategies to use in researched writing to make our sources speak, to make them come alive.

Here are some typical problems we encounter when using primary and secondary sources:

     - Leaving quotations and paraphrases to speak for themselves

     - Not differentiating your own voice from the voices of your sources (ventriloquizing)

     - Resorting to overly agreeing and disagreeing as your only means of responding to a source (other than summary)

Primary and secondary sources are nothing to fear. Many times we either leave sources to speak for themselves or ignore them altogether because we are afraid of losing our own voices. These strategies, listed below, are designed to help us know when and how to use quotes, and how not to become lost in the process.

Strategy 1: Make Your Sources Speak

v Quote, paraphrase, or summarize in order to analyze , as opposed to in place of analyzing.  Don’t assume that the meaning of your source material is self-evident.  Instead, explain to your readers what the quote, paraphrase, or summary means.  For example, what aspects do you find interesting or strange?  And relate these aspects to your overall thesis.   Your focus here in analysis should be on how the source leads you to your conclusion – beware of generalizing or putting two quotes next to each other without explaining the connection.

Using Strategy #1 : How are you using your sources?  Are you taking the time to develop points from your sources, or are you just using evidence – and is it clear why you are using it?  Highlight/bracket analysis, mark in a different color where analysis is not present immediately following source.  

Strategy 2: Use Your Sources to Ask Questions, Not Just to Provide Answers

v Use your selections from your sources as a means to raise issues and questions; avoid the temptation to use selections that provide answers without any commentary or further elaboration.  If you feel stuck with this, consider the source alongside other contexts (other sources, for example) and compare and contrast them to see if there are aspects of your topic that your source does not adequately address.

Using Strategy #2: Again, ask: how are you using your sources as question generators?  What how/why questions do your sources generate?  Look over the evidence you’ve used, and jot down the how/why questions you think your evidence creates.  Next, go through your paper.  Do you see yourself addressing these questions?  Mark your analysis appropriately so you can see how you’re addressing these questions (or not).  

Strategy 3: Put Your Sources in Conversation with One Another

v This is an extension of strategy 2.  Rather than limiting yourself to the only conversationalist with each source, aim for conversation among them.  Although it is not wrong to agree or disagree with your sources, it is wrong to see these as your only possible moves.  You should also understand that although it is sometimes useful and perhaps even necessary to agree or disagree, these judgments should 1) always be qualified and 2) occur only in certain contexts .  Instead of looking just at how you agree or disagree, try to imagine what these critics might say to one another.  Looking at sources in this way may prove useful as you explore your topics further in depth.

Using Strategy #3:

    This is a way for your sources to address one another directly, while also giving you more room to expand on your ideas through a slightly different form of analysis.  For example: what might the person you interviewed think about the secondary sources you found?  Would they agree with the claims you see your sources making, or would they disagree?  Why – what about their interview suggests this?  Make a list of possible dialogues your sources could have with one another.  

Strategy 4: Find Your Own Role in the Conversation

v Even though it’s important to not be the only person in the essay agreeing and disagreeing with the texts, it is important that you establish what you think and feel about each source.  After all, something compelled you to choose it, right?  In general, you have two options when you are in agreement with a source.  You can apply it in another context to qualify or expand its implications, or you can seek out other perspectives in order to break the hold it has on you.  In the first option, to do this, instead of focusing on the most important point, choose a lesser yet equally interesting point and work on developing that idea to see if it holds relevance to your topic.  The second option can also hold new perspectives if you allow yourself to be open to the possibilities of other perspectives that may or may not agree with your original source.

Using Strategy #4: While it’s important that you create a distinct voice for all the different kinds of sources you’ve used (interview, fieldwork, scholarly journals/books, etc.), it’s perhaps even more important that you have a clear role in this conversation that is your research essay.  Look over your paper: is it clear what you think?  Is it clear what is your voice, and what are the ideas/opinions of your sources? (Hint: your voice should still be clear in the midst of your sources, if you are taking the time to analyze them and develop your analysis as fully as possible.)  Highlight places where you voice – what you think – is clear.  Highlight in a different color places where your voice is unclear, or needs to be expressed more fully.

Strategy 5: Supply Ongoing Analysis of Sources (Don’t Wait Until the End)

v Instead of summarizing everything first and then leaving your analysis until the end, analyze as you quote or paraphrase a source .  This will help yield good conversation, by integrating your analysis of your sources into your presentation of them.

Using Strateg y #5:

Are your sources presented throughout the paper with careful analysis attending to each one?  Or are you presenting all your sources first, and analyzing them later?  Look through your paper, and mark places where you see yourself not analyzing your sources as you go.  Also: are there places where you see too much analysis, and not enough evidence?  Be sure to mark those places as well.  

Strategy 6: Attend Carefully to the Language of Your Sources by Quoting or Paraphrasing Them

v Rather than generalizing broadly about the ideas in your sources, you should spell out what you think is significant about their key words.  Quote sources if the actual language they use is important to your point; this practice will help you to present the view of your source fairly and accurately.  Your analysis will also benefit from the way the source represents its position (which may or may not be your position) with carefully chosen words and phrases.  Take advantage of this, and use the exact language to discuss the relevance (or not) of the quote to the issue you’re using it for.

Using Strategy #6: When paraphrasing or quoting a source, it’s important that you use the language of the source to help explain it – it keeps the reader in the moment with you, and helps him/her understand the key terms of that source – why you chose, why these words are so important, etc.  Look over your evidence, both quoted and paraphrased: are you using the language of the quote to help explain it?  Or is your analysis removed from the “moment of the source” (i.e. the language which the source uses to illustrate its point)?  Mark places where you think it’s important to use the language of the source to help analyze and develop the evidence more completely.  

  • Strategies for Using Quotes
  • Floating Quotations
  • How to Integrate Quotations

Attributed Quotations

Integrated Quotations

Strategies for Using Quotations In-Text

Acknowledge sources in your text, not just in citations:  

      “According to Lewis” or “Whitney argues.”

Use a set-up phrase, and splice the most important part of quotations in with your own words:

     According to Paul McCartney, “All you need is love.”

  Or phrase it with a set-up:

     Patrick Henry’s famous phrase is one of the first American schoolchildren memorize:

     “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

Anytime you use a quote, cite your source after the quotation:  

     Maxine Greene might attribute this resistance to “vaguely perceived expectations; they

     allow themselves to be programmed by organizations and official schedules or forms” (43).

Use ellipses to shorten quotations:

      “The album ‘OK Computer’ …pictured the onslaught of the information age and a young

        person’s panicky embrace of it” (Ross 85) .

Use square brackets to alter or add information within a quotation:  

      Popular music has always “[challenged] the mores of the older generation,” according to

      Nick Hornby.

Acc ording to Janet Gardner in her book Writing About Literature , there are three ways that we tend to use quotes:

Gardner advocates that we stay away from “floating quotations,” use at least an “attributed quotation,” and use “integrated quotations” as much as possible.

You will recognize a floating quotation when it looks as though the writer has simply lifted the passage from the original text, put quotations around it, and (maybe) identified the source.

Doing this can create confusion for the reader, who is left to guess the context and the reason for the quote.

This type of quoting reads awkward and choppy because there is no transition between your words and the language of the text you are quoting.

Example of a Floating Quotation; text taken from All She was Worth , by Miyuki Miyabe    

  Both Honma and Kyoko were rejected and looked down upon by Jun and Chizuko’s family when entering into marriage with their respective partners. “About her cousin – Jun’s father – and his family: what snobs they were, with fixed ideas on education and jobs” ( Miyabe 17).This passage shows that Honma and Kyoko were both being judged by their future in-laws by superficial stipulations.

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  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Published on June 20, 2018 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on May 31, 2023.

When you do research, you have to gather information and evidence from a variety of sources.

Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research.

Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews, and academic books . Thus, secondary research describes, interprets, or synthesizes primary sources.

Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but good research uses both primary and secondary sources.

Table of contents

What is a primary source, what is a secondary source, primary and secondary source examples, how to tell if a source is primary or secondary, primary vs secondary sources: which is better, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about primary and secondary sources.

A primary source is anything that gives you direct evidence about the people, events, or phenomena that you are researching. Primary sources will usually be the main objects of your analysis.

If you are researching the past, you cannot directly access it yourself, so you need primary sources that were produced at the time by participants or witnesses (e.g. letters, photographs, newspapers ).

If you are researching something current, your primary sources can either be qualitative or quantitative data that you collect yourself (e.g. through interviews , surveys , experiments ) or sources produced by people directly involved in the topic (e.g. official documents or media texts).

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example of essay secondary sources

A secondary source is anything that describes, interprets, evaluates, or analyzes information from primary sources. Common examples include:

  • Books , articles and documentaries that synthesize information on a topic
  • Synopses and descriptions of artistic works
  • Encyclopedias and textbooks that summarize information and ideas
  • Reviews and essays that evaluate or interpret something

When you cite a secondary source, it’s usually not to analyze it directly. Instead, you’ll probably test its arguments against new evidence or use its ideas to help formulate your own.

Examples of sources that can be primary or secondary

A secondary source can become a primary source depending on your research question . If the person, context, or technique that produced the source is the main focus of your research, it becomes a primary source.


If you are researching the causes of World War II, a recent documentary about the war is a secondary source . But if you are researching the filmmaking techniques used in historical documentaries, the documentary is a primary source .

Reviews and essays

If your paper is about the novels of Toni Morrison, a magazine review of one of her novels is a secondary source . But if your paper is about the critical reception of Toni Morrison’s work, the review is a primary source .

Newspaper articles

If your aim is to analyze the government’s economic policy, a newspaper article about a new policy is a secondary source . But if your aim is to analyze media coverage of economic issues, the newspaper article is a primary source .

To determine if something can be used as a primary or secondary source in your research, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does this source come from someone directly involved in the events I’m studying (primary) or from another researcher (secondary)?
  • Am I interested in evaluating the source itself (primary) or only using it for background information (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary) or does it comment upon information from other sources (secondary)?

Most research uses both primary and secondary sources. They complement each other to help you build a convincing argument. Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but secondary sources show how your work relates to existing research. Tertiary sources are often used in the first, exploratory stage of research.

What do you use primary sources for?

Primary sources are the foundation of original research. They allow you to:

  • Make new discoveries
  • Provide credible evidence for your arguments
  • Give authoritative information about your topic

If you don’t use any primary sources, your research may be considered unoriginal or unreliable.

What do you use secondary sources for?

Secondary sources are good for gaining a full overview of your topic and understanding how other researchers have approached it. They often synthesize a large number of primary sources that would be difficult and time-consuming to gather by yourself. They allow you to:

  • Gain background information on the topic
  • Support or contrast your arguments with other researchers’ ideas
  • Gather information from primary sources that you can’t access directly (e.g. private letters or physical documents located elsewhere)

When you conduct a literature review or meta analysis, you can consult secondary sources to gain a thorough overview of your topic. If you want to mention a paper or study that you find cited in a secondary source, seek out the original source and cite it directly.

Remember that all primary and secondary sources must be cited to avoid plagiarism . You can use Scribbr’s free citation generator to do so!

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
  • Chicago style
  • Paraphrasing


  • Types of plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Academic integrity
  • Consequences of plagiarism
  • Common knowledge

Common examples of primary sources include interview transcripts , photographs, novels, paintings, films, historical documents, and official statistics.

Anything you directly analyze or use as first-hand evidence can be a primary source, including qualitative or quantitative data that you collected yourself.

Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles , reviews, essays , and textbooks.

Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets primary sources can be a secondary source. If a source gives you an overview of background information or presents another researcher’s ideas on your topic, it is probably a secondary source.

To determine if a source is primary or secondary, ask yourself:

  • Was the source created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying (primary), or by another researcher (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary), or does it summarize information from other sources (secondary)?
  • Are you directly analyzing the source itself (primary), or only using it for background information (secondary)?

Some types of source are nearly always primary: works of art and literature, raw statistical data, official documents and records, and personal communications (e.g. letters, interviews ). If you use one of these in your research, it is probably a primary source.

Primary sources are often considered the most credible in terms of providing evidence for your argument, as they give you direct evidence of what you are researching. However, it’s up to you to ensure the information they provide is reliable and accurate.

Always make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

A fictional movie is usually a primary source. A documentary can be either primary or secondary depending on the context.

If you are directly analyzing some aspect of the movie itself – for example, the cinematography, narrative techniques, or social context – the movie is a primary source.

If you use the movie for background information or analysis about your topic – for example, to learn about a historical event or a scientific discovery – the movie is a secondary source.

Whether it’s primary or secondary, always properly cite the movie in the citation style you are using. Learn how to create an MLA movie citation or an APA movie citation .

Articles in newspapers and magazines can be primary or secondary depending on the focus of your research.

In historical studies, old articles are used as primary sources that give direct evidence about the time period. In social and communication studies, articles are used as primary sources to analyze language and social relations (for example, by conducting content analysis or discourse analysis ).

If you are not analyzing the article itself, but only using it for background information or facts about your topic, then the article is a secondary source.

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Finding Sources

Primary and secondary sources.

decorative image

Knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources will help you determine what types of sources you may need to include in your research essay. In general, primary sources are original works (original historical documents, art works, interviews, etc.), while secondary sources contain others’ insights and writings about those primary works (scholar articles about historical documents, art works, interviews, etc.).

While many scholarly sources are secondary sources, you will sometimes be asked to find primary sources in your research. For this reason, you should understand the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

  • Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events, and empirical research as possible. Such sources may include creative works, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, and the publication of the results of empirical observations or research. These include diaries, interviews, speeches, photographs, etc.
  • Secondary sources analyze, review, or summarize information in primary resources or other secondary resources. Even sources presenting facts or descriptions about events are secondary unless they are based on direct participation or observation. These include biographies, journal articles, books, and dissertations.
  • Tertiary sources provide overviews of topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources often provide data in a convenient form or provide information with context by which to interpret it. These are often grouped together with secondary sources. They include encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Analyze your topic/working thesis to determine the types of sources that can help with support.  For example, if your topic deals with Van Gogh’s use of pale green and what it connotes in his later paintings, you will need to couple evidence from primary sources (images of the paintings themselves) with secondary sources (other scholars’ views, discussions, and logical arguments about the same topic).  If your working thesis deals with the benefits of regular exercise for older adults in their 70s-90s, you may couple evidence from primary sources (uninterpreted data from research studies, interviews with older adults or experts in the field) with secondary sources (interpretations of research studies).  In some cases, you may find that your research is mostly from secondary sources and that’s fine, depending on your topic and working thesis.  Just make sure to consider, consciously, the types of sources that can best be used to support your own ideas.

The following video provides a clear overview of primary and secondary sources.

  • Primary and Secondary Sources. Revision and adaptation of the page What Are Scholarly Articles? at https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-englishcomposition1/chapter/text-intermediate-research-strategies/which is a revision and adaptation of the sources listed below. Authored by : Susan Oaks. Provided by : Empire State College, SUNY OER Services. Project : College Writing. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • What Are Scholarly Articles?. Provided by : Lumen Learning. Project : English Composition I. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Provided by : Virginia Tech University Libraries. Located at : http://www.lib.vt.edu/help/research/primary-secondary-tertiary.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Secondary Sources in their Natural Habitat. Authored by : Amy Guptill. Provided by : SUNY. Located at : http://pressbooks.opensuny.org/writing-in-college-from-competence-to-excellence/chapter/4/ . Project : Writing in College. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Walk, Talk, Cook, Eat: A Guide to Using Sources. Authored by : Cynthia R. Haller. Provided by : Saylor. Located at : . Project : Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing Vol. 2. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • Scholarly Sources. Provided by : Boundless. Located at : https://www.boundless.com/writing/textbooks/boundless-writing-textbook/the-research-process-2/understanding-the-academic-context-of-your-topic-261/understanding-the-academic-context-of-your-topic-34-1667 . Project : Boundless Writing. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
  • image of open book. Authored by : Hermann. Provided by : Pixabay. Located at : https://pixabay.com/en/book-open-pages-library-books-408302 . License : CC0: No Rights Reserved
  • video Understanding Primary & Secondary Sources. Provided by : Imagine Easy Solutions. Located at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmno-Yfetd8 . License : Other . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

Essay On Primary And Secondary Sources

example of essay secondary sources

Show More Primary and secondary sources are both very important pieces of information that have been used to help support history throughout the years. Without our primary and secondary sources we would not have information to base off of. Primary sources are actual artifacts or documents created during a specific time. Some great examples of primary sources are things like journals, diaries, newspapers, speeches and even things like art and music. All these things were created first hand by someone at a specific time. The diary of Ann Frank is also a great example of a primary source . Her actual diary that was retrieved shares with us actual events and allows us to see what life was like through her eyes with her diary. Other primary sources are things like surveys and results. If you take a look at this year’s Census statistics that is leaving primary source information about our country and our people. We create primary sources every day when we take pictures with our phones because we are documenting something in a photo of a specific date and time. Without primary sources we would not be able to discover things from the past. …show more content… In other words secondary sources recap a past event and can give their own opinion on the subject. A very good example of a secondary source is textbooks, they display and write about primary sources. Biographies are also an example of a secondary source because they are books written about other people and not written by the people themselves. We also write our very own primary sources every time that we produce a paper for school. Secondary sources can help an audience alter their view of events, but they can also help you understand past historical events in a much simpler more modern

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  • World War II
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Research Guides@Tufts

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  • Getting Started
  • Reference Sources
  • Primary Sources by Topics
  • Primary Sources by Region

General Databases

Specialized databases, secondary sources in jumbosearch.

  • Citing Your Sources

Secondary Sources

What is a secondary source?

 A secondary source is a scholarly discussion based on primary sources. Typically, a secondary source contains original research.

Why should I use secondary sources?

Secondary sources are useful for in-depth analysis of your topic and for learning about scholarly perspectives on your topic. You can use a secondary source as a conversation partner about a topic or you can take the methodology from a secondary source an apply it to a new research question.

What are some examples of secondary sources?

Secondary sources include articles, blogs, books (often called monographs), lectures, podcasts, and scientific reports. Any kind of scholarly liter can be a secondary source.

Pro tip:  Although the distinction between primary sources and secondary sources is useful, it is not absolute. A secondary source may become a primary source depending on the researcher's perspective. Consider a textbook on American history from the 1990's. If a researcher uses the textbook for a scholarly perspective on the civil rights movement, then it is a secondary source. However, if the researcher uses the textbook to as evidence of curriculum in the 1990's, then it is a primary soruce.

  • Academic Search Premier Multidisciplinary | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Arts & Humanities Citation Index Multidisciplinary | Abstracts and index
  • Arts & Humanities Database Multidisciplinary | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Essay and General Literature Index Multidisciplinary | Index of essays
  • JSTOR Multidisciplinary | Abstracts and full-text content
  • America: History & Life History | Focus on North America | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Anthropology Plus Anthropology | Abstracts and full-text content
  • ATLA Religion Religious studies | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Hispanic American Periodicals Index (HAPI) Multidisciplinary | Focus on Hispanics in North and South America | Abstracts and index
  • Historical abstracts History | Excludes North America | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Index Islamicus Multidisciplinary | Focus on Islam and the Muslim World | Abstracts and index
  • Middle East and Africa Database Multidisciplinary | Focus on Middle East and Africa | Abstracts and full-text content
  • Sociological Abstracts Sociology | Abstracts and full-text content

Searching by Subject Terms

Books in the library catalog are tagged with subject terms to help patrons find books on specific topics. Here is a list of suggested subject terms to use in JumboSearch:

  • Historians -- Biography
  • Historiography -- History
  • Historiography -- Methodology
  •   Historiography -- Political aspects
  •  Historiography -- Social aspects
  • Note: you can replace "India" in this example with names of other countries
  • Middle Ages -- Historiography
  • Nationalism and historiography
  •   Social history
  • World history -- Historiography
  • << Previous: Primary Sources by Region
  • Next: Citing Your Sources >>
  • Last Updated: Oct 24, 2023 8:31 AM
  • URL: https://researchguides.library.tufts.edu/historiography


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  1. What Is the Difference Between a Primary and Secondary Source?

    A primary source refers to documentation or material presented by parties that were directly present or involved in the referred subject, while a secondary source refers to documentation derived from the opinion or views of primary sources.

  2. How Do You Write an Example Essay?

    To write an example essay, follow the guidelines pertaining to regular essay writing. Decide on a general topic for the example essay, and proceed to researching, formulating a draft and writing in detail. Ensure thorough proofreading and f...

  3. What Are Examples of Subtopics in an Essay?

    The subtopic of an essay is a topic that supports the main topic of the essay and helps to bolster its credibility. An example of a subtopic in an essay about transitioning to a new school might be difficulty making new friends or learning ...

  4. Using Secondary Sources in an English Essay

    As soon as you use your first secondary source, you are venturing into research. Research essays are based on information and opinion that you find and read;

  5. Secondary Sources: Definition and Examples

    Other common examples of secondary sources include biographies (but not autobiographies), art reviews, thesis papers and dissertations, reports

  6. Secondary Sources Essays

    A primary source is an eyewitness account during the time in which it was written. Some examples of primary sources are Night by Elie Wiesel and The Diary

  7. What are some examples of secondary sources?

    Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles, reviews, essays, and textbooks. Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets

  8. Primary and Secondary Sources: Understanding the Difference

    For instance, when writing a poetry analysis essay example, a primary source could be the actual poem itself. Analyzing the words, themes

  9. Using Secondary Sources

    Some examples of primary sources: - the novel Frankenstein (which you are analyzing for an essay on motherhood in. Frankenstein ). - an


    SAMPLE MLA ESSAY. WITH SECONDARY SOURCE b. Elizabeth Burton. Dr. Laura Dubek. English 3000. 15 December 2010. “Put a Ring on It”: Female (Dis)Empowerment in

  11. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    Reviews and essays that evaluate or interpret something. When you cite a secondary source, it's usually not to analyze it directly. Instead, you

  12. Primary and Secondary Sources

    Knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources will help you determine what types of sources you may need to include in your research essay.

  13. Essay On Primary And Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources are literary criticism, biography, and history. The type of essay that you use will determine which type of source that you will

  14. Secondary Sources

    What are some examples of secondary sources? Secondary sources ... Essay and General Literature Index. Multidisciplinary | Index of essays.