Primary data VS Secondary data with examples

September 13, 2019

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what are they and why do we need them?

Primary and secondary sources are the two types materials you will use while undertaking your research project. They are both important and needed for your project. The requirements for whether you use more primary or secondary sources depend on your academic level: undergraduate, postgraduate, professional.

Both types of sources have importance and merits of their own, but they are also immensely different.

 Main differences between primary and secondary sources

The one main difference between primary and secondary sources is that primary sources are contemporary.

Primary sources are original and originated from the event they refer to. They are not reviews, analyses, criticisms or critiques of events that occurred. They are not second-hand information. For a more detailed description of what a primary source is, where you can access them, and why you need to use them, see this article about primary sources

Secondary sources are summaries, critiques, opinions, and analyses. They are written by people who did not witness, or have any direct part to play in the event they are describing. The information they contain is based on primary sources, and is the author’s interpretation of the event/subject they are covering. See this article about secondary resources for further information.

Examples of Primary and Secondary data.

Primary source
Secondary source
Article analyzing the novel
Exhibition catalog explaining the painting
Letters and diaries were written by a historical figure
Biography of the historical figure
Essay by a philosopher
Textbook summarizing the philosopher’s ideas
Photographs of a historical event
A documentary about the historical event
Government documents about a new policy
Newspaper article about the new policy
Music recordings
An academic book about the musical style
Results of an opinion poll
Blog post interpreting the results of the poll
Empirical study
The literature review that cites the study

Examples of sources that can be primary or secondary

A secondary source can become a primary source depending on your research question. If the person, context, or technique that produced the source is the main focus of your research, it becomes a primary source.


If you are researching the causes of World War II, a recent documentary about the war is a secondary source. But if you are researching the filmmaking techniques used in historical documentaries, the documentary is a primary source.

Reviews and essays

If your paper is about the novels of Toni Morrison, a magazine review of one of her novels is a secondary source. But if your paper is about the critical reception of Toni Morrison’s work, the review is a primary source.

Newspaper articles

If your aim is to analyze the government’s economic policy, a newspaper article about a new policy is a secondary source. But if your aim is to analyze media coverage of economic issues, the newspaper article is a primary source.

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