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Primary and Secondary Sources

How to find secondary sources

      Secondary sources can be found in Library Search, library databases and Google Scholar.

   To find good quality secondary sources, follow these three steps:


Not sure which database to use? Look at the Library Resource Guide for your discipline.

How to find primary sources

You can find primary sources in a number of places including library databases, online, and in archives and libraries. In order to determine where to search, you need to think about what kind of information you are looking for.


You can click on the 3 areas listed below to view more information on where to find primary sources.

Library databases

Some library databases contain specialised primary source material – for instance, Gale Primary Sources and Lexis Advance. Your Library Resource Guide will direct you to the best primary source databases for your discipline.  

Other databases publish specific ‘types’ of primary source content. For example, databases such as Newsbank and Factiva publish newspaper articles. Databases such as Kanopy, Alexander Street Press and Informit EduTV publish streaming video content. Meanwhile, databases such as ArtStor and Oxford Art Online publish artwork. You can find databases by type by visiting the A-Z databases page and filtering your results by Format. 

Some primary sources are also republished within books. For example, this eBook contains some of Charlotte Bronte’s letters. Another example is this eBook anthology of documents related to religion in early Stuart England. You can search for these collections of primary sources via the general Library Search or catalogue. 


Institutional websites such as libraries, museums and universities often publish primary sources online. If you’re not sure what websites are likely to publish primary source material on your topic, use Google to search for your topic. For instance, a Google search for ‘World War I diaries’ directs you to the State Library of New South Wales which has digitised and uploaded these primary sources.  

Primary sources such as statistics and government reports can also be found by visiting government websites or searching in Google Scholar. If you are using government information as a primary source, look for the extension to ensure that it is a reliable source. In Google Scholar, you can also search specifically for information by domain name when you do an Advanced Search. 

Archives and libraries

Many primary sources are found in archives, museums and special library collections. Collections can usually be explored online through the institution's catalogue. However, sometimes you need to physically visit the archive, museum, or library in order to access the item. 


How to recognise

At a basic level, you should be able to distinguish between a primary and secondary source by asking yourself whether the source is a first-hand account or not.
However, this can be complicated in certain circumstances. 

Remember, primary sources are characterised by their content, not their method of publication. While primary sources are original documents, you don’t need to physically view the original document yourself. This means that you don’t need to travel to an archive overseas to read Jane Austen’s letter written in her own hand in order to cite it as a primary source in your essay. 

Tip: Some sources can be both primary and secondary sources depending on the context in which they are used

Generally, a documentary on climate change would be a secondary source for a science student, but it may be a primary source for a Film Studies student studying documentary filmmaking. Similarly, a newspaper opinion piece is a primary source if you are using it to analyse how people reacted to a particular event. However, the same newspaper piece would be a secondary source if you are using it simply as a source of information on the event.