Secondary Source: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Citing an Online Newspaper Article

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 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
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

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:

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account