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PHIL 231 (PHIL 3230): Media Ethics (Koeddermann) Spring 2022 231-01

Primary & Secondary Sources

Primary sources are documents or objects that provide direct, first-hand evidence. A secondary source analyzes, discusses, summarizes, and comments upon primary sources. Secondary sources are one step removed from the original, primary source.

Disciplines define primary sources differently. To the scientist, they might be reports of original research or personal papers; to the journalist, they might be interviews or letters. 

In Philosophy, examples of primary sources can include:

  • philosophical texts, treatises, meditations 
  • personal narratives, diaries, memoirs, correspondence, letters
  • speeches

(Primary Sources - Philosophy - Subject Guides at University of Alberta Libraries ( available under a Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International — CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • biographies
  • reviews
  • critical analysis
  • second-person account
  • historical study 
  • journal article summarizing or examining previous findings

Where can I find primary sources?

Primary sources may be available in print, in library databases, on websites, or in microform collections. Print primary sources, or print reproductions of primary sources, are sometimes available in archives and libraries. In addition, primary sources are increasingly found online in digitized form. These may be found in library databases or on websites. Primary sources are also available in microform, a format that has been used for many years to preserve documents, as well as to save storage space. 

Tips for finding primary sources:


  • Look for titles of primary sources in secondary sources and in lists included in bibliographies of secondary sources. Use text, class, and library bibliographies for recommended titles or listings of primary sources.

  • Browse library shelves around other relevant books. This is often a wonderful way to discover collections of primary sources that have been published in a book format.