Home » S.O.A.P.S. Interpreting Primary Source Documents

S.O.A.P.S. Interpreting Primary Source Documents

What is the difference between Primary and Secondary Sources?


One of the more confusing distinctions for history students at every level is that between “primary” and “secondary” sources. Primary sources are original, first-hand accounts of an event or time period. They are usually written or made during or close to the event or time period. They can be anything from newspapers or government documents to original, creative writing or works of art. Most importantly, these sources are factual and not interpretive because they come directly from the source. Secondary sources, on the other hand, analyze and interpret primary sources. They are second-hand accounts of an historical event or time period. Most of the historical materials you have seen at this point in your academic career are secondary sources. Below is a table that shows some of the most common primary and secondary sources to help guide your research.

Examples of Primary Sources

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Diaries, journals, and letters
  • Newspaper and magazine articles (factual accounts)
  • Government records (census, marriage, military)
  • Photographs, maps, postcards, posters
  • Recorded or transcribed speeches
  • Interviews with participants or witnesses (e.g., The Civil Right Movement)
  • Interviews with people who lived during a particular time (e.g., genocide in the Americas)
  • Songs, Plays, novels, stories
  • Paintings, drawings, and sculptures
  • Biographies – Books
  • Histories – Books
  • Literary Criticism
  • Book, Art, and Theater Reviews
  • Newspaper articles that interpret
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Books (encyclopedias)


Why use S.O.A.P.S. when interpreting Primary Source documents?

When confronted with a reading passage or document, students need a process to help them begin to determine the purpose or significance of the document.

It will then be much easier to interpret or even gather evidence from the document when students have a literacy tool to help them begin the process of finding the purpose of a reading passage or document.

Subject- What is it talking about?

Occasion- When and where was the original found?

Audience- Who is it for?

Purpose- Why do I care? Why was it created?

Speaker- Who is speaking?


  1. Deshaun Ballard says:

    Dear Mom,
    Today in class we learned about primary vs. secondary sources. A primary sources are original. The primary source is a first person point of view

  2. Deshaun Ballard says:

    point of view. In order to be a primary sources you have to be there at the time the event happened. Examples of primary sources are diaries, letters, interviews, and etc… A secondary source tells about a primary source. Since secondary tells about primary sources this has 1 step missing. A secondary source is a second or third person point of view. You are a secondary source when you hear someone else tell you about a event but you were not there. Examples of secondary sources are books, radio, newspaper articles, and etc…

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