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Penn State University Libraries

Primary and Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

  • are uninterpreted sources of information.
  • allow you to examine evidence firsthand without being affected by other intermediary opinions.
  • allow you to draw comparisons between your assessments and the conclusions of others.
  • may be scattered and disorganized.
  • are sometimes described by their formats (e.g., letters and diaries as opposed to books).

Secondary Sources

  • interpret the "primary" literature, or guide readers to the primary material.
  • make information more accessible by repackaging it in a more accessible form
  • are far removed from the original event.
  • are sometimes described by their formats (e.g., books, journals, textbooks, anthologies, etc.)


For further descriptions of primary resources, see: