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What is a source?

There are two basic types of academic sources:

Primary Sources

  • the main text or work that you are discussing (e.g. a sonnet by William Shakespeare; an opera by Mozart)
  • actual data or research results (e.g. a scientific article presenting original findings; statistics)
  • historical documents (e.g. letters, pamphlets, political tracts, manifestoes)

Secondary Sources

  • works that discuss your primary source (e.g. an article analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets; a review of an opera performance; a textbook that synthesizes research in a particular field; a newspaper editorial expressing an opinion on a political manifesto.)

Sources may occur in a variety of formats, including:

  • oral and written forms
  • print media such as books, articles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, journals, and newspapers
  • audio-visual media such as film, TV, radio, sound recordings, artwork
  • research findings such as raw data, lab results, interviews, graphs, charts, and tables
  • Internet sources such as websites, reference works, newspapers, electronic texts, hypertexts, newsgroups, listserves, and essays posted online
  • personal communication such as letters, e-mail, memos, class lectures, and conversations

All primary and secondary sources in whatever format must be properly documented wherever you use them in your work.