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Communication Studies

A research guide for students in the field of Communication Studies.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources


Primary sources are original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched.

Secondary sources are works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon. Secondary sources generally use primary sources.

What are their characteristics?

Primary sources:

  • First-hand observations
  • Contemporary accounts of the event
  • Viewpoint of the time
  • Factual, not interpretive
  • Remain unchanged


Secondary sources:


  • Interpretation of information, usually written well after an event
  • Offers reviews or critiques

What are some examples?

Primary sources:

  • Interviews
  • News footage
  • Data sets
  • Original research
  • Speeches
  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Creative works (e.g., plays or novels)
  • Photographs
  • Audio or video recordings (e.g., radio, TV)
  • Survey research
  • Advertisements


Secondary sources:

  • Research studies
  • Literary criticism
  • Book reviews
  • Biographies

Primary and Secondary Source Examples

Primary Source


Movie titled, The 39 Steps.

Secondary Source


Book chapter analyzing The 39 Steps.

Primary Source


PEW Research Data on income disparity between young adults with and without a college degree.

Secondary Source


Newspaper article describing the results from the PEW poll.

Primary Source


Wheaties box featuring the slogan "The Breakfast of Champions."

Secondary Source


Article analyzing successful advertising campaigns.

Image Credits:

The 39 Steps. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll. Gaumont British Picture Corporation Ltd., 1935. Film.

Gillett, Philip. Movie greats: A critical study of classic cinema. New York: Berg, 2008. Print.

"The Rising Cost of Not Going to College." Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (February 11, 2014). Web. 

Lee, Don. "Is college still worth it? Pew research says yes." Los Angeles Times. 11 Feb. 2014. 

Cover of a Wheaties box featuring athlete, Bruce Jenner.

Moran, Gwen. "#1 Source Of Brand." Entrepreneur 33.12 (2005): 34. Business Source Complete. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.



Find Primary Sources

Primary Sources LibGuide

Video: Finding Primary Sources @ LMU