IRIS 42: Information and Research Instruction Suite for two-year colleges

Primary and Secondary Sources

Who's on First?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines primary as "Occurring or existing first in a sequence of events; belonging to the beginning or earliest stage of something; first in time."

If you can remember that primary comes from prime, meaning first, you're halfway to understanding how primary sources may fit into your research. screen shot of the definition of primary from the Oxford English Dictionary

The definition of primary source changes from discipline to discipline, and sometimes from instructor to instructor. Some instructors take a very broad view, some a very narrow definition.

You can learn more about primary sources in the following case studies.


After completing the module on Primary and Secondary Sources, students will be able to:

  • Distinguish primary sources from secondary sources.


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updated: 28 August, 2009