Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources
- Primary sources
- Secondary sources
- Tertiary sources
Primary Sources: Definition
Primary sources have not been evaluated or interpreted by anyone else. They are original materials that you can evaluate on your own.
Using primary sources in your research allows you to back up your thesis statement with your own argument, because the information within primary sources has not been
affected by another person’s point of view or opinion.
Primary sources can also help you better understand the point of view of people who experienced an event or time period.
Examples of Primary Sources
Here are some examples of primary sources:
Letters, diaries or autobiographies
Speeches (either the transcript or audio)
Creative works like paintings, novels or plays
Data from surveys, polls and experiments
Secondary Sources: Definition
Secondary sources interpret, critique or analyze primary sources.
Secondary sources are created when someone looks at primary sources and makes a decision about their meaning. You are doing that, too, when you use primary sources in your research paper!
Examples of Secondary Sources
Here are some examples of secondary sources:
Textbooks and biographies
Reviews or criticisms
Encyclopedias and dictionaries
Newspaper or journal articles that analyze or discuss events and ideas
Journal articles that review and analyze primary sources
Tertiary Sources: Definition
A tertiary (pronounced “ter”-“she”-“airy”) source provides a summary of primary and/or secondary sources. Tertiary sources are:
- Often strictly factual
- Do not include analysis or opinions
- Not appropriate to cite in a research paper
Tertiary sources are useful for gathering background or general information on a topic in the early stages of your research project. Since they give a broad overview of
information, you should not use them as sources to directly answer your hypothesis.
Examples of Tertiary Sources
Here are some examples of tertiary sources:
Newspaper and Journal Articles as Primary and Secondary Sources
Newspaper articles can be both primary and secondary sources. Journal articles, too.
Newspaper and Journal Articles as Primary Sources
A newspaper article that is written close to the time of the event and includes interviews, transcripts, eyewitness accounts or raw data would be considered a primary
source. A journal article that is being reviewed or analyzed is also considered a primary source.
For example, an article published by The Revolution, a weekly women’s rights newspaper created and edited by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, would be considered a primary
Primary Source: Example
fought for women’s suffrage.
Newspaper Articles as Secondary Sources
A newspaper article that is published after the fact and contains analysis, critiques, or opinions about events or data would be considered a secondary source.
This newspaper article, examining the relationship and contributions of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and
Frederick Douglass, which was published in 2008, would be a secondary source.
The author analyzed information from primary sources and other secondary sources to come to a conclusion about the two activists.
Secondary Source: Example
If you or someone else were to write an analysis or a commentary about that political cartoon, that piece of writing would then be a secondary source.
Are you reading a secondary source where someone else has analyzed a primary source, instead of letting the primary source speak for itself? In many cases, particularly if that person analyzing
the source is an expert, that’s not a problem. You can use that secondary source to back up your argument.
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