A primary source provides direct, or first-hand evidence. For example, if you conduct a survey and include the findings in your paper, you are using a primary source. One of the strongest forms of a primary source is empirical studies. These are direct observations or experiments and are documented in scholarly articles and journals. Observations are reviewed by peers in the fields, so you can be sure findings are accurate and dependable. Empirical studies are common primary sources for natural and social science research papers.
Other forms of primary sources include:
- Historical documents
- Statistical data
- Reports on experiments
- Eyewitness accounts
- Video and audio recordings
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Secondary sources interpret, analyze, discuss, or comment on primary sources. Think of them as one step away from the original source itself. A book discussing Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, for instance, is a secondary source. Other types of secondary sources are:
- Reports in newspapers and magazines
- Reviews of books and movies
- Journals and reports discussing someone else’s original work
Select Appropriate Sources
Before you start finding sources to support your topic, decide which types of sources are suitable and how to access the information. As you can see from this list, the options are vast, so if you don’t select the most appropriate avenues to explore, you’ll waste valuable time.
The type of information you want tells you the right place to look. A well-respected newspaper is probably a good source if you want data on current events. If you are looking for population statistics, government census reports give you the numbers you need.
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