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Difference Between Primary and Secondary 

The word secondary and primary are frequently used in many references. There is a clear distinction between these two terms as this article highlights. The terms are used predominantly in academic settings to refer to primary data, secondary data, primary sources, secondary sources, primary school and secondary school. The understanding of the key differences is of prime importance.

Difference Between Primary and Secondary

Definition of Primary

Primary often refers to the first in order of occurrence, development or importance. If something is of primary importance, it means it is of foremost importance and nothing else is important than it is. For example, the primary objective of government is to reduce the unemployment statistics. This means that the government is committed to prioritizing the reduction of unemployment before anything else.

Primary can also refer to originality. If the study requires primary sources, these are the sources that were not derived from anything but original formulators of the sources. Primary sources can include the questionnaire, published books, interviews, experiments or observations. It is often referred to as first-hand information the collection of which is often expensive. The primary sources are also considered to be more credible.

In statistics, there is primary data and secondary data. Primary data is of paramount importance in statistical research as it is considered to be more accurate. It helps in getting a deeper understanding of a certain concept as it entails raw evidence.

In primary school versus secondary school, the term primary means first in order. The child cannot proceed to secondary school before passing the primary school. Usually, primary school is designated for kids up to the age of 11 years, depending on the country. The studies undergone in primary school serve as the foundation for the secondary school.

The synonyms for the term primary can include basic, fundamental, original and essential, among others. A primary care refers to a basic or essential care offered in health.


Difference Between Primary and Secondary

Definition of Secondary

Anything described as secondary is regarded as less important than a primary thing. Consider this sentence: “The treatment of the disease is secondary to the prevention of it”. This means the prevention of the disease is of paramount importance than the treatment thereof. Another example: “The building had intense explosions while secondary explosions occurred in the backyard”. The main or primary explosions occurred in the building, while the second in order happened in the backyard.

When referring to secondary data, the data is considered to be extracted from primary data so such data is unoriginal. Statistical research is unfavorable to secondary data when concrete and raw evidence is required. Basically, secondary data is one in which the researcher analyses the existing information or derive conclusions based on someone’s research. Censuses, journals and library materials are some of the sources of secondary data.

A secondary source is also not an original source conducted by the owner. The researcher basically consults the published journals, books or articles in a quest to extract certain primary information from them. If one researcher has published accurate figures on the infection of HIV in patients, that is the primary sources because the researcher could have undertaken interviews or a questionnaire. Then, referring to such research is considered as a secondary source.

A secondary school follows in order from primary school. Kids aged between 12 and 18 years attend a secondary school after passing the primary school.

Key Differences between Primary and Secondary


Primary is of higher importance than secondary. For instance, the primary aim of the president is to create jobs whereas his secondary aim is to campaign for elections.

Order of occurrence

Primary occurs before secondary. For example, a primary school coming before the secondary school.


Primary data and primary sources are considered more credible than the secondary ones which are regarded as less important. For example, the researcher might conduct the experiment and publish primary sources while the next researcher uses the results of the experiment as the secondary sources merely for analysis.

Primary VERSUS Secondary

Summary of primary vs. secondary

  • Primary refers to first in importance, value or in development
  • Secondary refers to less in importance, second in development or occurrence
  • Primary sources and primary data are always preferable in academic research
  • Secondary sources are also acceptable but less credible than the primary sources
  • Primary and secondary sources can work in synergy

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References :

[0]John Hamilton: Primary and Secondary Sources. ABDO Publishing Company, 01 Sep 2010

[1]Image credit: http://www.thebluediamondgallery.com/handwriting/images/primary.jpg

[2]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Preschool_activity_130523-Z-WA217-031.jpg#/media/File:Preschool_activity_130523-Z-WA217-031.jpg

[3]Image credit: https://media.defense.gov/2014/Sep/16/2000940783/780/780/0/140915-F-MD332-003.JPG

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