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Are books primary or secondary sources?

Last Updated: May 02, 2014  |  554 Views

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The short answer to this question is, it depends. 

It depends on the content inside the book.

For example, if you were researching Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein...

  • the book Frankenstein (the work of literature) would be a primary source.
  • a book of literary criticism about Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein would be a secondary source
  • a book containing Mary Shelley's letters would be a primary source. 
  • a biography of Mary Shelley's life would be a secondary source. 

It depends on the context of the source in relationship to what you're researching.

For example, if you were researching global warming...

  • a book about global warming that was written during the 1990s would be a secondary source.  

If you were researching how people talked and wrote about global warming in the 1990s...

  • the SAME book about global warming that was written during the 1990s would be a primary source.

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