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Primary and Secondary Sources: What’s the Difference, Anyway?

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[The following post was written by Amanda Morrison, a recent graduate of the Department of Library & Information Studies.]

The Libraries can help you find the best materials available for your research and projects.  As you prepare to start a writing or research assignment, it’s helpful to be clear on what you are looking for.  Usually, two kinds of sources are necessary:  primary sources and secondary sources.

What’s the difference?  Primary sources are the materials, documents or texts that you are studying or commenting on. They can be recordings of particular events, photographs or even manuscripts of literary works. Examples include:  the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution, Civil-War era photographs, or recordings of political events or speeches. A full description can be found at You can find many primary source resources available through the UB Libraries here: (look under the tab called “Primary Sources”).

Secondary sources are materials that analyze, comment on or respond to primary sources and artifacts.  Examples include:  scholarly articles about the Constitution, the introduction to a facsimile edition of Finnegan’s Wake, or the catalog notes to an exhibition.

Other blog posts highlight some of the excellent databases you can use for secondary sources:  JSTOR, Academic Search Complete, and Project Muse.  These are all available from the Libraries database page.  For help understanding what secondary sources are and finding the right ones for your work, ask your librarian.  We are here to help!

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