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Information Literacy Tutorial

Our Library's tutorial covers: research skills, critical thinking and information literacy.

What are Primary & Secondary Sources?

The distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary sources hinges on how far from the original event or phenomenon the information source is created. Is it first-hand knowledge? A second-hand interpretation? 

  • Primary sources are created as close to the original event or phenomenon as it is possible to be. For example, a photograph or video of an event is a primary source. Data from an experiment is a primary source. 
  • Secondary sources are one step removed from that. Secondary sources are based on or about the primary sources. For example, articles and books in which authors interpret data from another research team's experiment or archival footage of an event are usually considered secondary sources.
  • Why is this important? Because different kinds of research call for using primary and secondary sources in different ways. For example, a research paper usually requires a combination of primary and secondary sources.

What are Some Examples of Primary Sources?

Topic: Performance of a Company 

Example of an Appropriate Primary Source: Annual Reports; SEC Filings

Topic: Sinking of a ship in 1920

Example of an Appropriate Primary Source: Newspapers and newsreels about the event; a diary

How do I find Primary Sources?

Primary source databases 

  • Many libraries subscribe to databases that contain and identify any primary sources for a given subject. Try searching historical databases like: History in Context: World


  • Newspaper articles are key primary sources for past current events. Try searching newspaper databases with deep archives like the Historical New York Times to ensure that you find a newspaper article published during the time of your historical event

Museums, archives, historical societies, civic and cultural groups, religious institutions, and public libraries

  • Cultural institutions often collect pictures, letters, diaries, archival materials etc. As it becomes faster and cheaper to do so, they are preserving this material and providing public access to it by scanning it and making it available on the Web. You will likely gain access to even more resources if you are able to visit the institution housing them in person. For starters, try Library of Congress: American Memory.

Government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) 

  • If you need statistics and datasets, try

What are Some Examples of Secondary Sources?

Topic: Performance of a Company

Example of an Appropriate Secondary Source: Books about the company; articles analyzing the company's performance

Topic: Sinking of a ship in 1920

Example of an Appropriate Secondary Source: Biography of a crew member or passenger  

How Do I Find Secondary Sources?


  • Library databases contain secondary sources for a given subject. Databases will allow you to access magazine, newspaper and journal articles. The NCC Library subscribes to over 80 databases on a wide variety of subjects.


  • Books are great secondary sources. To fins books about a particular event or work of art/literature, try searching the Library catalog using the title of that event or work as your subject.