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The Research Process: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A tutorial on doing research that gets the results you want.

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Type of Source Examples
Primary: A firsthand account of an event that has previously been ubpublished
  • A diary
  • A scientific study that has not been published before
  • Correspondence
  • A historic document, e.g. the Magna Carta, Declaration of Indepencence
  • Interviews
  • Autobiographies
Secondary: This is one level removed from the primary. The author is analyzing, summarizing, and/or making conclusions about the content of the primary document.
  • A review of a book, music, film, or art
  • Biography
  • A newspaper article describing a scientific study
Tertiary: This is one level further removed from the primary source. The content of the source refers to secondary rather than primary sources.
  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies and indexes used to locate primary resources
  • Chronologies
  • Textbooks
  • Manuals