A primary source is direct or firsthand evidence about a topic. This can be contrasted with secondary sources that describe, discuss, interpret or analyze information based on primary sources. The following are illustrative examples of a primary source.
ResearchThe data and findings of research as found in a book, journal article, thesis or dissertation that is written by those who conducted the research as opposed to a third party writer.
Subject Matter ExpertsThe expert and qualified opinion of an professional or expert in some domain. For example, an information security expert who describes how encryption works in a video.
Eyewitness AccountsInformation such as an interview, speech or notes from an individual who witnessed an event or time period. For example, an interview with a solider who participated in a particular battle.
Public DataData produced by a government or international organization and released to the public such as census data that provides demographic information about a region.
Proprietary DataData produced by an individual, company or non-profit that you can access. For example, an environmental organization that publishes data about the levels of chemicals found on common food products as certified by a lab. In some cases, proprietary data is biased in some way and it is important to consider the reputation and motivation of those who produced it.
Data that has been aggregated, calculated and summarized such as an economic indicator published by a government or university according to a standard methodology.
Proprietary CalculationsData based on proprietary methods, systems, calculations and algorithms. For example, an organization that puts a number to the happiness of populations in different countries with a scoring system.
Measurements and observations from a controlled experiment.
Field ResearchMeasurements or observations from the place that they occur. For example, an essay about ocean plastic that uses observations, photographs and counts of plastic in a sample from a local beach.
ObservationsBeyond experiments and field research, other types of observations may be used as a primary source. For example, a historical interview with a regular person from the 1920s that captures their general observations about society may be useful to understanding the lives of people during this period.
OpinionA measure of opinions such as a public opinion poll or survey.
Historical RecordsHistorical records such as an old newspaper article that describes an event a reporter witnessed.
Public RecordsGovernment records such as a marriage certificate.
Personal RecordsThe personal records of an individual such as a diary. This may be relevant as a primary source for history or a biography.
EventsEvents that convey knowledge such as a conference that includes a debate between subject matter experts that is captured in conference materials.
Time & PlaceA photograph, drawing, video or audio recording that captures information about a time and place. For example, a rare video of a street in Paris in 1904 that may convey information about the everyday fashion of the period.
ArtifactsPhysical things such as products from the 1960s that could be used as a primary source of information about historical product design.
Oral TraditionInformation passed down by word-of-mouth. For example, an individual in a community who can recount a myth, legend or historical event.
SensorsReadings from sensors such as sea temperature data.
Technical ReportA knowledge artifact that provides technical explanations and data. For example, a manual that describes how to maintain an aircraft.
Work of ArtA work of art such as a painting or a digital replication of such. For example, an essay discussing the July Revolution of 1830 might make reference to the painting Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix.
Creative WorksCreative works such as fiction or film can be a primary source for any investigation that looks at the content of the work itself. For example, fiction is a primary source for a book report.
AutobiographyAn individual who documents their own life is considered a primary source. If someone else documents their life in a biography, it is considered a secondary source.
Machine DataData that reports the state of machines. For example, a technical website that publishes CPU benchmarks collected from its own tests.
User InputInformation submitted by users of a technology such as comments on a newspaper article or reviews on an ecommerce site.
Accounting RecordsRecords of financial transactions such as a bank statement.
Business RecordsInformation generated by a business such as internal documents and communications.
CorrespondenceText from a conversation such as a series of emails or letters that are used as a primary source for a biography of an individual.
PatentsA patent is a public disclosure of an invention. These are often used as a primary source to investigate a technology or organization.
NotesA primary source for one investigation may be considered a secondary source for another with the test being whether the information is as direct as possible given your topic. For example, a book by an astronaut may be a primary source of information about a mission that they directly participated in and a secondary source of information about rocket technology. This is particularly true if the astronaut references sources related to rocket technology such that they are clearly interpreting information from other sources.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about primary source.
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