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College Readiness

Primary or Secondary?

Primary Sources are documents or objects that were written or created during the time of study.  


  • Original Documents:  Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, etc.  (translations are acceptable)
  • Creative Works:  Plays, films, music, artwork, novel, etc.
  • Relics or Artifacts:  pottery, clothing, buildings, etc.


  • Diary of Anne Frank
  • United States Constitution
  • Native American Weaved Blanket
  • Academic journal articles presenting or reporting new findings
  • Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Secondary Sources provide evaluation or interpretation of data or evidence found in orginal research or documents such as historical manuscripts or memoirs.  Note:  Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them.


  • Publications:  Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias


  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the Cold War
  • Biography of Carl Sagan

Academic or Non-Academic?

Academic sources are set apart from non-academic sources because they are written by experts writing in their field, and they are reviewed by other experts before they are published to ensure they are both timely and accurate.  Academic sources are also written for readers already knowledgeable in the field, therefore they contain subject specific jargon and are narrowly focused, providing depth on the topic.  Your instructors expect that you will use academic sources in your writing and unless told otherwise, avoid non-academic sources. 

Examples of Academic Sources:

  • Articles from academic and scholarly journals
  • Non-fiction books from a trusted publisher

Examples of Non-Academic Sources:

  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Websites

*For more infomation on academic sources, visit the scholarly journal page.


Reference books are secondary sources that are used for background information, such as encyclopedias.  They also include; dictionaries, atlases, bibliographies, etc.  Reference books are a great starting point in your research to gather a better overall understanding of the topic.

At Rockhurst University the reference books are located on the main floor, these book are non-circulating.  We also have a wide selection of electronic reference materials that can be access in the catalog.  


Newspapers are not scholarly work, however many times they provide a first hand account of an event making them perfect primary sources.  Speak to your instructor to see if your newspaper sources can be used for your research.  Newspapers are valuable in research because they offer current information that may take months or years to be published in academic journals. Newspapers can provide national or local information, providing a different view on the same event.  

At Rockhurst, we provide electronic versions of local, national, and international newspapers for both current and historical reading.

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 Rockhurst University Library · 1100 Rockhurst Road · Kansas City, MO 64110 · 816-501-4116