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Research 101: A Self-Guided Tutorial

Research Smarter

7 - Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources

Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Information can also be broken down into primary, secondary and tertiary. What is understood as "primary" will be different based on the discipline of study.

  Primary Sources Secondary Sources Tertiary Sources
What is it? Original documents created or experienced contemporaneously with the event being researched. Works that analyze, assess or interpret an historical event, era or phenomenon, generally utilizing primary sources to do so. Sources that identify and locate primary and secondary sources
Characteristics First-hand observations, contemporary accounts of event, viewpoints of the time Interpretation of information, usually written well after the event, offer reviews or critiques. Reference works, collections or lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources

Humanities topics: creative works, diaries, letters, speeches, interviews, newspapers and broadcasts

Science topics: results of experiments, research and clinical trials

Social Science topics: census data, statistics, results of experiments of human behavior

Journal articles, editorial articles, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks Encyclopedias, biographies, indexes, abstracts, bibliographies, library databases and catalogs