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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

Research Skills for First-Year Seminars (FSEMs)


⭐ This section is required for all FSEM students ⭐

Primary / Secondary / Reference

Primary Sources: Original documents created or experienced contemporaneously with the event being researched. They are first-hand observations, contemporary accounts of events, viewpoints of the time. They present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.

Secondary Sources: Works that analyze, assess, or interpret an historical event, era or phenomenon, generally utilizing primary sources to do so. They provide interpretation of information, usually written well after the event. They offer reviews or critiques.

Tertiary Sources/Reference Sources: Collections of background information, such as encyclopedia, handbooks, dictionaries, and chronologies. They provide condensed background information on a topic.  Use this background information to give you ideas, and to help you find primary and secondary sources that you can include in your final paper.


Here are some examples of primary and secondary sources in different subject areas.


Example Fields

Primary Source Examples

Secondary Source Examples


Art, Theatre, Music, Dance

Sketchbooks, scripts, photos, plays, sculptures, works of art and music

Critical reviews in journal articles, publications about the authors/artists and their works


Philosophy, History, Literature, Languages

Speeches, diaries, narratives, artifacts, interviews, short stories, original research

Book reviews, literary criticisms, biographies, journal articles, annotated bibliographies, documentaries

Social Sciences

Business, Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, Education, Economics

Studies, lesson plans, case reports, surveys, market research and testing, statistical data, published results of clinical trials

Publications about the significance of research or experiments, reviews of results

Natural Sciences and Applied Sciences

Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Nursing, and Computer Science

Published results of experiments, observations, discoveries, technical reports, models, schematic drawings, specimens, designs

Publications about the significance of research or experiments, reviews of results

NOTE: This chart is being used under a CC license.  The original was created George Mason University Libraries.