Common examples of primary sources include interview transcripts, photographs, novels, paintings, films, historical documents, and official statistics.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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Journal articles and ebooks can often be found on multiple different websites and databases. The URL of the page where an article is hosted can be changed or removed over time, but a DOI is linked to the specific document and never changes.
The DOI is usually clearly visible when you open a journal article on an academic database. It is often listed near the publication date, and includes “doi.org” or “DOI:”. If the database has a “cite this article” button, this should also produce a citation with the DOI included.
If you can’t find the DOI, you can search on Crossref using information like the author, the article title, and the journal name.
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The Scribbr Plagiarism Checker is powered by elements of Turnitin’s Similarity Checker, namely the plagiarism detection software and the Internet Archive and Premium Scholarly Publications content databases.