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Primary vs. Secondary Research: Difference & Importance

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cathryn Jackson

Cat has taught a variety of subjects, including communications, mathematics, and technology. Cat has a master's degree in education and is currently working on her Ph.D.

There are two types of resources when conducting research for a speech: primary and secondary. Learn about the types of resources, how to determine if a resource is primary or secondary, and the importance of using both. Updated: 10/06/2021

Primary Versus Secondary Research

Ashley is researching a speech for her biology class. She wants to persuade her class to only purchase wild caught fish rather than purchasing fish that are harvested from aqua farms. Ashley knows some of the pros and cons of fish farming, but she wants to make sure her speech is supported by quality research. She interviews local fishmongers, conducts research on her library database, and passes out a survey to her classmates.

In this lesson, you will learn about the different types of resources and how to distinguish between primary and secondary resources.

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Types of Resources

You should be starting out your speech just like Ashley: by gathering information and conducting research. Research is investigating a subject to learn the facts about that subject. You will encounter two types of resources when conducting your research for a topic: primary and secondary resources. A primary resource is a personal account of an event or an experiment that you arrange or documents written by people who were part of the original event. A secondary resource is a resource that is a compilation of primary data or analysis that was presented somewhere else first.

Types of resources:

  • Observation and personal experiences
  • Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Objects
  • Original documents
  • Books
  • Newspapers
  • Periodicals
  • Academic journals
  • Encyclopedias
  • Statistical sources (almanacs or abstracts)
  • Biographies
  • Government publications
  • Internet resources

Ashley has an interview, a survey, and research from her library's database. But which of these are primary resources and which are secondary resources? Let's talk about primary resources first.

Primary Resources

A good way to remember the definition of primary source is to think about the source of the information: is it you or someone else? If you are the primary, or the first, person with this information, then it is likely a primary source.

For example, if you use a personal experience in your speech to clarify or illustrate one of your main points, then this would be an example of a primary resource. Or, let's say you make an observation, such as the sound a tornado makes when it was near, then your observation would be a primary resource because you are the one that experienced the situation.

Let's say you are conducting an interview. The interview transcript would be a primary source because you are the first person that experienced the interview. However, if you were reading about an interview or watching an interview online, then that would be a secondary source because you did not conduct the interview on your own. The interview that Ashley conducted for her speech would be considered a primary resource because she has had a first-hand account of this information. She is the person that conducted the interview; therefore, she is the primary source for this information.

Original documents are also a type of primary source because you are citing the information from the original, or primary, source. Let's say you were doing a speech about the Great Depression and you found a letter that one of your relatives wrote that lived during that time. The letter would be a primary source because it's the original piece of information. However, if you were reading a book about the Great Depression that was written based on a collection of letters from that time period, then the book would be a secondary source because someone else created that book based on the original documents.

An object can also be considered a primary source. Let's say you were to give a demonstration or speech about how to play a guitar. You bring in your Stratocaster guitar and show the audience the different pieces and parts of that guitar. You may have learned this information in the past from someone else, but pointing out the different pieces and parts of this object would be considered original research and would therefore be a primary resource. However, if you were doing research for a speech on ancient Egypt and began describing a piece of pottery or artwork that you read about online, then the online source would be a secondary resource.

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