Answered By: Lydia Tsai
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2017     Views: 58

A primary source is a document or object that allows you to extract first-hand information. Whether or not something is a primary source depends on your research question.

For example, if your research question was "What were Edgar Allan Poe's views on love", his original poems could be analyzed as primary sources. Other works he created himself such as diaries, interviews, letters, and speeches could also be treated as primary sources. 

Books, biographies, and articles about Edgar Allan Poe that were written by someone else would not be considered primary sources because the information you can get from them would be second-hand, i.e. the information presented has been processed (analyzed, interpreted, summarized) by another researcher. These would be secondary sources. 

However, if your question were "How do 21st century scholars interpret the work of Edgar Allan Poe?" then the same books, biographies, articles, and reviews by scholars that could only be secondary sources before now have the opportunity to become primary sources! It all depends on what you need to analyze. 

When you are trying to determine whether or not something is a primary source (in the context of your research), it can be helpful to ask yourself this question:

Am I doing a first-hand investigation of the document myself, or am I paraphrasing someone else's analysis?

Media

  • The following video by The Hartness Library describes the difference between a
    primary and secondary source:

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