Getting started: Primary v Secondary Sources

At risk of significantly over generalising, primary sources are data that is authoritative. It represents a source of truth. Secondary sources are writings, analysis or interpretations of the primary data -and are considered to be persuasive.

When studying and researching the law, primary sources are the sources of the law itself:

  • cases;
  • legislation;
  • regulation;
  • hansard, second reading speeches etc.

Secondary sources include textbooks, journal articles and other scholarly writing about the law. It might include a restatement of the law, but generally doesn’t purport to be a source of law.

Both are useful when researching – which needs more attention depends very much on the question that you’re being asked to answer with your research.

Sue and Cath discuss the differences between Primary and Secondary research in this continuation of our discussion that began with ‘where do you start’ when it comes to researching the Australian Law. We attempt to discuss some of the ways that you might weight primary and secondary sources as you do your research.

When weighing up secondary resources, we like to apply the FIRST approach described below: