Primary and Secondary Sources

Explained by Common Craft
When researching, there are two main types of information sources: primary and secondary sources. Understanding the difference between them and how to use them can help make your projects more thorough and accurate.
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Video Transcript:

Way back in 1703, a massive storm hit the southern coast of England.  It was a hurricane known as the Great Storm and it took over 8,000 lives. Today we know quite a bit about that storm and what actually happened when it came ashore.  

We know so much because we have a reliable way to research and document events, places, and people who matter. Using two major kinds of sources, we can establish the facts and information that represent the most accurate version of events.

Here’s how it works.  

When an event like the Great Storm happens there are usually people who witnessed or experienced it directly. They were there. In the Great Storm, these were residents living on the coast, weather observers and ship captains, for example. No one else had better information than these people and in many cases, they provided accounts of what happened via memoirs, interviews, creative writing, scientific documents and more.

These are the primary sources for research about the storm. If you were to write an article about the experience of the Great Storm, the primary sources would be considered the best information because it came from people who were actually there.

But for your article, other sources of information may also be helpful.  First-hand accounts are great, but can be misleading or inconsistent by themselves. Often great information can be found from researchers who, many years later, gathered the primary source information and analyzed it. This can uncover new facts and versions of the event, such as the extent of the damage or how it compared to other storms in history. This research has the power to change how we look at the storm.

For your article, this is considered a secondary source.  

So for any important part of history, you are likely to find two types of sources that can work together to give you a strong sense of the event. These are the primary sources - accounts of people who were there and secondary sources - documentation and analysis of primary sources and other relevant information after the fact.

By understanding the types of sources you have and how to use them in your projects, you can bring your audience the best experience and most accurate information.


What it teaches:

This video looks back at a big event in history: The Great Storm (England, 1703). It asks the question - how do we know what we know about this storm? This question is answered by explaining primary and secondary sources. It teaches:

  • Why sources matter in establishing facts and information
  • What represents a primary source and how to use them
  • Why primary sources may present an incomplete picture
  • What represents a secondary source
  • How primary and secondary sources may contribute to the best understanding

Video Info:

  • Duration:  02m 20s
  • Captions Available:  YES
  • Lesson Plan:  YES
  • Category:  Technology, Study Skills, Society
  • ACRL Info Literacy Frame:  Searching as Strategic Exploration

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