Primary and Secondary Sources

As we go through our daily lives, we must constantly make decisions.  Some decisions are easy and others require us to gather more information and think carefully.  An incredible amount of information is available from our family and friends, television, libraries, archives, the internet, magazines, newspapers, and many other sources.  Some of this information is reliable and easy to use and some of it is not.
One way to make better decisions is to understand the sources where we get information.  One way to classify sources of information is as either a Primary Source or a Secondary Source.

What are Primary and Secondary Sources?

A source is classified as either primary or secondary based upon how it is created and how it is used.  The definitions and examples, below, will help you begin to understand how things are most often classified.  Remember, the examples given may be classified differently depending upon how they are used.  Click on the underlined words to see an example from the Gore Center collections. 

Primary sources contain firsthand evidence of historical events created at the time, or soon after, the event happened.

Examples may include:

Diaries, letters, or other personal papers;
Interviews and transcripts;
Newspaper clippings;
Government and business records; or
Other historical records.

Physical objects such as arrowheads and furniture can also be primary sources.

Secondary sources provide analysis, interpretation or evaluation usually to support a position or advance a claim. A secondary source relies on primary and other secondary sources.

Examples include:

Newspaper accounts,
Journals, and
other works that compile and report various sources of information.

Questions about Primary and Secondary Sources

Some questions for discussion are included with the examples that can be reached by clicking on the links above.  The links below present additional information on the use of primary and secondary sources in everyday experiences.  Other examples, especially of photos, can be found at various places throughout the Albert Gore Research Center website.

Paying an Insurance Claim

What Good Are Primary Sources?


Exhibits and Resources Albert Gore Research Center