Answered By: Debbie Herman
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2019     Views: 12

Secondary sources are materials that analyze or critique a past event or scientific experiment. They are written after an event occurred, sometimes much later, and give you a broader perspective on your research topic. Unlike primary sources, secondary sources aren't flagged as such in most research databases, so determining whether the source you'd like to use is a secondary source is a bit more challenging!  

To determine if your information source is a valid secondary source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does the author know about the subject? Is it from personal experience or first-hand knowledge (primary source) or is the information based on what others have written (secondary source)?
  • Was the author present at the scene when the event took place (primary source)?
  • Is the author a contemporary of the person or subject he or she is writing about (primary source)?  
  • Is the author interpreting or analyzing or discussing an event that happened? (secondary source) 
  • Does the author cite other works written about the topic? (secondary source)
  • What is the publication date? Is it around the time the event occurred (primary source) or was it written much later (secondary source)?
  • If it is an experiment that is being discussed, was the experiment conducted by the author (primary source) or is the author discussing someone else's experiment (secondary source)?