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SUBJECT LIBGUIDE: EVALUATING RESOURCES: Know Your Resource: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Primary Resources

PRIMARY RESOURCES

DEFINITION 

  • Documents, images or artifacts that provide firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning an historical topic under research investigation.
  • Original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched.
  • Enable researchers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.

CHARACTERISTICS

  • First hand observations, contemporary accounts of the event. Viewpoint of the time.
  • First-hand observation, analysis or accounts with the events described.
  • Document events, people, viewpoints of the time.
  • Represent one person's perspective; frequently will be used with secondary/tertiary sources to explore events, eras, etc.
  • Be aware of bias of the observer/analyzer that creates the primary source, and also cultural biases of the era in which the primary source was created.
  • Reproductions of primary sources remain primary for many research purposes.

EXAMPLES

  • Interviews 
  • News footage 
  • Data sets,
  • Original research 
  • Speeches 
  • Diaries 
  • Letters 
  • Creative works 
  • Photographs
  • Archives and manuscript material
  • Photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, films
  • Journals, letters and diaries
  • Speeches
  • Scrapbooks
  • Published books, newspapers and magazine clippings published at the time
  • Government publications
  • Oral histories
  • Records of organizations
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Printed ephemera
  • Artifacts, e.g. clothing, costumes, furniture
  • Research data, e.g. public opinion polls

Secondary Sources

SECONDARY SOURCES

DEFINITION 

  • Works that interprets or analyzes an historical event or period after the event has occurred and, generally speaking, with the use of primary sources.
  • Note: The same document, or other piece of evidence, may be a primary source in one investigation and secondary in another.

CHARACTERISTICS

  • Works that analyze, assess or interpret an historical event, era, etc., generally using primary sources.
  • Offers a review or a critique
  • Includes books, journal articles, speeches, reviews, research reports, and more.
  • Written after the events that are being researched.
  • Note: However, if an individual writes about events that he or she experienced first hand many years after that event occurred, it is still considered a primary source.

EXAMPLES

  • Research studies 
  • Literary criticism 
  • Book reviews 
  • Biographies 
  • Textbooks

Tertiary Sources

TERTIARY SOURCES

DEFINITION 

Sources that identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources.

CHARACTERISTICS

  • Reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources.
  • Identify and locate primary and secondary sources.
  • These include bibliographies, indexes, abstracts, encyclopedias, and other reference resources; available in multiple formats, i.e. some are online, others only in print.
  • Note: Be Aware that these categories, i.e. secondary and tertiary, are not mutually exclusive. A single item may be primary or secondary (or even tertiary) depending on your research topic and the use you make of that item.

EXAMPLES

  • Encyclopedias 
  • Bibliographies 
  • Dictionaries 
  • Manuals 
  • Textbooks,
  • Fact books 
  • Indexes
  • Abstracts
  • Other reference resources; available in multiple formats, i.e. some are online, others only in print.