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Student Research

Have a project, homework assignment or just want to learn something new? Get started with all of NHCPL's Research Resources.

Open books

Primary Sources

Definition: A first hand account of the subject being researched. These can be diaries, journal entries, newspapers, autobiographies, and similar works. These sources have raw data from the subject in question, without preexisting interpretations.

Declaration of Independence, 1776

Primary Source Subject: American Revolution

Written during the American Revolution

Written by some of the most influential thinkers of the time

Verified content through historical study 



When is it not an appropriate primary source?

When the information in the document is no longer relevant to your research. In this instance, the Declaration of Independence is not relevant for studying the development of China.

Secondary Sources

Definition: Secondary sources are ones pertaining to or being a derived or derivative account, an evaluation of original data, etc. These sources often are a step back from the original source, commenting on it.

Definition from

Encyclopedia Entry

Subject verified before publishing

Constantly updated

Written by experts in the field

NOT written during the time period of the event



Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

  Primary Source Secondary Source
Art Original artwork Article critiquing the piece of art
History Slave diary Book about the Underground Railroad
Literature Poem Treatise on a particular genre of poetry
Political Science Treaty Essay on Native American land rights
Science or Social Sciences Report of an original experiment Review of several studies on the same topic
Theater Videotape of a performance Biography of a playwright

Adapted from University of Massachusetts Boston, Library User Education, Primary vs. Secondary Sources.

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