About These Sources
Good quality research uses all three types of sources.
Primary sources provide the raw data for your research.
Secondary sources such as books, scholarly journals, and newspaper article synthesize correct research and help you put your subject in context. Secondary sources are tremendously important for helping to position your argument within the existing research and peer conversation.
You will use tertiary sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries and other reference tools to gather background information on your topic and to identify the people, places, dates, organizations, and themes central to your topic.
TIP: What is considered primary, secondary, or tertiary information may vary according to your field of study. When in doubt, ask your instructor.
Differences between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary sources
Primary sources have the following characteristics:
- contain direct evidence, first-hand testimony, or eyewitness account of a topic or event
- provide raw data
- are commonly diaries, correspondence, photographs
Secondary sources have the following characteristics:
- use primary data to solve a research problem
- interpret primary sources
- are commonly scholarly books and journal articles
Tertiary sources have the following characteristics:
- books or articles that synthesize and report on secondary sources for general readers
- are commonly textbooks, encyclopedia articles, or handbooks
Primary vs Secondary Sources Tutorial
This video by the Cooperative Library Instruction Project defines and demonstrates the differences between primary and secondary sources in several different scholarly disciplines. It includes a quiz so that you can apply what you have learned.