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Primary and Secondary Sources: A Complete Guide Highlighting the Differences

  • 7 Jun
  • 2024

Are you working on a dissertation writing project? So, you must know that you need tons of data to write a perfect dissertation. You must also already know the different sources of data you can use in your PhD thesis. What? You do not know about those sources. Okay, there is no need to worry.There are many students like you who do not have any idea about the research data sources. So, know that primarily there are two data sources, i.e., primary and secondary sources.

As you know nothing about these sources, this article will serve as a complete guide for you. It will highlight the differences that exist between them. However, first of all, let’s start with their definitions.

What is the primary source of data for a dissertation?

A primary source is a source which contains firsthand data. The data in such sources are normally written by individuals who have personally experienced and witnessed the particular events. Simply put, it is original data written by the researchers themselves at the time when they have collected or after a short span of time.

Hence, such sources are close to the origin of particular information. Some examples of primary sources are manuscripts, newspapers, and speeches of someone.

What is the secondary source of data for a dissertation?

The second type of data source mostly used in sociology and psychology is a secondary source. Such sources are very closely related to the primary sources. It is because the secondary sources are the interpretation of primary sources.

In such sources, the dissertations authors relate their study to the data that originated somewhere else. Secondary data sources often use generalisations, analysis, interpretation, and synthesis of the primary sources. Some examples of secondary sources are textbooks, articles, and reference books.

Differences Between Primary and Secondary Sources

Differences Between Primary and Secondary Sources

From the discussion above, you know the definitions of both sources. However, today’s article’s main topic is highlighting the differences between primary and secondary sources.

So, in this section of this article, I will talk about the differences. Hence, a brief description of those differences that exist between these sources is as follows:

1- Original vs Interpretation

The main difference between primary and secondary sources is that of originality. The researcher himself writes the primary source, which is why it is termed as original knowledge. This source of information may or may not be the original document.

The sure thing is that this piece of information is written at the time of the event. Due to this, almost everyone says this source is an original one as it is close to data origin.

On the other hand, the secondary sources are not firsthand sources. The researchers develop these sources after the origin of the information. They do so by interpreting, synthesising, generalising, or analysing the primary sources.

It is why this source is more like an interpretation, not the original one.

2- The actual occurrence of the event vs criticism

The second difference between primary and secondary sources of dissertation data is the occurrence of the event. The event can be the observation of a population, experimenting with something in the lab, or studying the behaviour of children.

The main point is that the primary source is based on the actual occurrence of the event. At the same time, the secondary source is not based on this. The basis of this particular source is the criticism, analysis, or evaluation of that event once it has happened. Hence, it is the most important difference of all, and you must keep it in mind as it is very confusing.

3- Provision of the evidence vs analysis

It is the 3rd and also one of the most important differences of all. Being an original source, the primary source has a provision of the evidence. This evidence can be the date when a particular event has been recorded. It could be the testimony of someone who has been there at the time of the event happening.

Hence, the evidence is there in primary sources. In the meantime, it is not a scenario with secondary sources. In secondary sources, you will not see the pieces of evidence. Rather, there will only be an analysis of the primary sources’ data.

4- The difference in the availability and presentation of data in these sources

A strong difference lies in the availability of data from these sources. The primary sources being the carriers of original data are mostly difficult to find. If found, the data in these sources is mostly in raw form. You need to process that data to unearth the hidden meanings.

However, it is not the case with secondary sources. Data in these sources is in refined form. All you need to do is take that data and use it in the way you want. Also, the secondary sources’ data is mostly understandable by a layman who does not have too much knowledge of academic writing.

5- The difference in the cost-effectiveness of both sources

A big difference is there in the cost-effectiveness of both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources are difficult to get, and there are high costs associated with their acquisition. As the primary source contains original data, it may also be protected by Copyright Laws.

So, first, you will need to get those rights, which is an expensive task. Second, you can also hire dissertation writing services that already have those rights. On the other hand, the secondary is very economical and is available at very minimal prices. If you are low on budget, consider using secondary data. Hence, a huge difference also lies in the cost of acquisition.


When writing a dissertation, it is necessary about different data sources. Normally, primary and secondary sources are the two main sources. Knowing the differences between them can be very helpful for you in choosing the right sources for your research. Hence, read the differences mentioned above and decide the fate of your dissertation.