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COMM 230: Politics, Citizenship, and Communication (Dr. Burgchardt)

Primary Vs. Secondary

Primary Sources:

Primary sources are original documents, such as interviews, letters, original research findings, works of art, legal documents, and more. They are first hand accounts of an event that has happened, and involves someone who has a direct connection with the event or work.  


  • Work of art (i.e. painting, novels, plays, photographs, music, video games, etc.)
  • Interviews and oral histories 
  • Letters and diaries
  • Original research articles (articles reporting new information and results, NOT a review of others' research)
  • Speeches
  • Etc.

Secondary Sources:

Secondary sources are a report or analysis of something that has already happened. They are an interpretation of a primary source.


  • Literature review
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Biographies
  • Reference books 
  • Descriptions of artistic works
  • Etc.

Newspaper Articles:

Although newspaper articles are typically secondary sources, some are primary; it can be confusing.  If the newspaper article is reporting on a recent event, or if the reporters can be considered as witnesses to an event, then it would be considered primary. Any topic on the media coverage of an event or phenomenon would treat newspapers as a primary source. If it's reporting on either something that has happened in the past, or drawing in information from other sources, it would be secondary. 


A newspaper article from 1912 that reports on the sinking of the Titanic would be a primary source since it's an article from the time the event happened.

A newspaper article from 2019 reporting on the results of the presidential election of 2016 would be a secondary event since it's reporting on something that has already happened.  

Popular Vs. Academic/Scholarly (Peer-Review)

Scholarly journal articles differ from magazines/newspapers in that they are written by and for scholars (and not for the general public).  See the following table to help your distinguish between popular and scholarly articles (and remember, you should aim for at least 10 scholarly articles to support your research for this assignment):

Popular Articles (Magazines/Newspapers) Scholarly Articles (Journals)
Written by journalists, columnists, reporters, bloggers, etc. Written by scholars, academics, and researchers.
Written for non-experts and the casually interested. Written for (and by) those with expertise in the field.
Sometimes referenced, but rarely with academic/scholarly sources. Thoroughly referenced, with credible and reputable sources.
Written to entertain, inform, provoke, and make money. Written to advance scholarship and academic knowledge.
Usually reviewed by an editor, though freelance work may be un-reviewed. Usually reviewed by academics and scholars (hence “peer-review”).
Examples: Time, Newsweek Global, National Geographic, The New Yorker Examples: Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Cinema Journal, American Journal of Education, Nature