Secondary Source: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 Definition of…
  • 0:57 Function of Secondary Sources
  • 1:32 Advantages &…
  • 2:02 Examples of Secondary Sources
  • 3:07 Defining Questions
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Vineski

Patricia has an MFA in Writing, an MS in Teaching and English Language Arts, and a BA in English.

What are secondary sources? Read this lesson to learn about these materials. You'll also find out how to determine whether or not a source is secondary.

Definition of Secondary Sources

We've all seen a movie or read a book that we just had to tell our friends about. We might begin by saying simply, 'it was a great movie' or 'that was the best book I ever read'. We go on to say what it was that we thought was great about the movie or why that book was the best one we ever read. In doing so, we offer our opinions, observations and interpretations of scenes, characters, plot, word choices or anything else that struck us as we watched or read. Because we are telling our friends about the movie or the book (the original materials), and they are not watching or reading it for themselves, we are a secondary source.

Secondary sources are second-hand information. They may contain information that has been interpreted, commented on, analyzed or processed at a distance from the original. Secondary sources are usually produced after an event has occurred.

Function of Secondary Sources

The function of secondary sources is to interpret original materials. Secondary sources are neither better nor worse than original materials; they are simply different. The source of the information you use is not as important as its quality and its relevance for your particular purpose.

The best secondary sources are those that have been published most recently. If you use a secondary source that was published decades ago, it is important to know what current scholars have written on the topic as well as any criticism they have made about the earlier work or its approach to the topic.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Secondary Sources

There are advantages to using secondary sources. First and foremost, secondary sources are often less costly and time-consuming than collecting original materials. Disadvantages exist as well. There may not be enough secondary sources on your topic. The quality of the available information could also be a problem. The original material may have been analyzed or interpreted by someone without the necessary expertise. There is also a chance that a secondary source could be outdated.

Examples of Secondary Sources

All of these sources can be classified as secondary sources:

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