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AS2 Research Paper Project : Primary vs. Secondary Resources

A guide to resources for Mr. Smarick's American Studies II students to write a clear and concise paper based on a topic relating to an approved U.S. history topic in the period 1866 - 2010.

Primary Sources Defined

What are Primary Sources?

A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.

Examples of primary sources include documents, artifacts, historic sites, songs, or other written and tangible items created during the historical period you are studying.

Secondary Sources Defined

What are Secondary Sources?

A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian's reading of primary sources.

Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.

Secondary Resources are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Examples include:

  • Reference book (book or serial publication to which one can refer for confirmed facts)
  • Periodical literature (a published work that appears in a new edition on a regular schedule, such as newspapers or magazines)
  • History textbooks
  • Monographs (paper, book, or other work concerned with a single subject or aspect of a subject)
  • Journal articles (refers to a serious, scholarly publication that is peer-reviewed)

Primary vs. Secondary Sources (Hartness Library, 3:17)

Tertiary Sources Defined

What are Tertiary Sources?

Tertiary sources are based on a collection of primary and secondary sources and may or may not be written by an expert. Tertiary sources should never appear in your bibliography but are only used as exploratory sources, to give you ideas about what to research.

Wikipedia is not a reliable source and should not be utilized or appear in your bibliography.

Examples are dictionaries, encyclopedias, fact books, and guidebooks.

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