What Are the Two Main Types

Primary & Secondary Sources Group Work – Using Pride & Prejudice

There are two types of support: primary and secondary. The names refer to the degree of "distance" to the topic.

A primary source is an original document or account that is not about another document or account but stands on its own. For example, any novel, poem, play, diary, letter, or other creative work is a primary source. The data from a research study also constitutes a primary source because it comes straight from the participants' replies. Interviews, not of experts but of people actually experiencing something "on the scene," are also primary sources. If you were doing a paper on the emotional effects of job loss, talking to someone who just lost their job would be about as close to your topic as you could get. That's what we mean by distance.

Secondary sources are ones that interpret primary sources or are otherwise a step removed. A journal article or book about a poem, novel, or play or a commentary about what an interview signifies is a secondary source. Your paper will likewise become a secondary source.

Note: Not all assignments ask you to consult secondary sources. For literary essays in particular, often all the examples or evidence you need will, and should, come straight from the text. Make sure you understand the assignment before you look for essays on Hamlet that you may not even need.

So how do you research primary sources?

Texts: Once you have an argument in mind, reread them. Highlight, underline, scribble in the margins, or use sticky notes to pick out what you need. Attune yourself to the text with the different angle you've chosen to write about. Remember, this time you won't be reading for comprehension (i.e., what is the plot of the story), but for specific examples that support your gut feeling about how or why something is going on in the story. Be sure to note down glaring contradictory evidence too. You'll need to acknowledge that in your paper or else revise your thesis depending on how strong the counter-evidence turns out to be.

The following is taken directly from http://www.esc.edu/htmlpages/writer/exer6.htm - do it quickly & check your answer.


1.  You're writing a research paper on the homeless problem in your town or city. Which of the following sources would be a primary source for you and which a secondary?

2.  A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: "Drifting Apart: New Findings on Growing Income Disparities Between the Rich, the Poor, and the Middle Class," 1990

3.  An interview with two homeless persons in your town.

4.  A book entitled The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare by Michael Katz, 1989.

5.  An article entitled "The Culture of Poverty" in On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences.

6.  An interview with a sociology professor who teaches a course that explores the homeless problem.

7.  A book by Karl Marx entitled Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, 1887.

8.  Statistics on the number of homeless in New York State from the State Census Office

9.  An interview with the head of a homeless shelter.


Read the following thesis carefully: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice contains elements of style, satire, and social criticism that is found in her much earlier Juvenalia.

Write 6 note cards using the attached examples of her Juvenilia and your copies of Pride and Prejudice. In this case, each note card should have 2 citations – one from the Juvenilia and one from her novel. Also, you are much more likely to include direct quotes (or even better an integrated mixture) when using primary sources.