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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Search catalog, what are the differences.

Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin. This informs the reader as to whether the author is reporting information that is first hand or is conveying the experiences and opinions of others which is considered second hand. Determining if a source is primary, secondary or tertiary can be tricky. Below you will find a description of the three categories of information and examples to help you make a determination.

Primary Sources

These sources are records of events or evidence as they are first described or actually happened without any interpretation or commentary. It is information that is shown for the first time or original materials on which other research is based.  Primary sources display original thinking, report on new discoveries, or share fresh information.

Secondary Sources

These sources offer an analysis or restatement of primary sources. They often try to describe or explain primary sources. They tend to be works which summarize, interpret, reorganize, or otherwise provide an added value to a primary source.

Tertiary Sources

These are sources that index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. Tertiary sources are usually not credited to a particular author.

Research Guides

Types of Sources: Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary

  • Scholarly vs. Trade vs. Popular
  • Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary
  • Finding Primary Sources
  • Introduction
  • Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiery

Ask a Librarian

Contact the geisel library reference desk, library hours, primary sources "at a glance", primary vs. secondary vs. tertiary sources.

Use the charts to help you understand the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Please consult your professor or a librarian if you are unsure about identifying a particular source.

This chart was adapted from a research guide prepared by the Library at the University of North Carolina Wilmington .

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Identifying Information Sources

What's the difference, primary sources and research, secondary sources and research, tertiary sources, comparison chart.

  • Scholarly vs. Popular Publications This link opens in a new window

Related Guides

  • Primary Sources for Historical Research: A Library Guide by Reference Librarians Last Updated Jan 3, 2024 1 views this year
  • Research Process by Liz Svoboda Last Updated Jan 31, 2024 2023 views this year

Need to Ask a Question?

Telling the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources can often be confusing because the difference is more about the content of the source than the published format. The format may be a first indicator of whether or not a source is primary, but evaluating the content will be the ultimate judgement call.

Primary and secondary sources often differ based on the academic discipline.

This page will give you some guidance on deciding whether a source can be considered primary or not. Many of the formats listed on this guide will exist in both physical and digital modes.

To start, the following video from the Australian National University Library gives an excellent explanation of the different contexts in which sources can be considered primary, secondary, or tertiary.

Primary sources   are the original documents of an event or discovery.  Primary sources are also records of events as they are first described. They are often considered the most credible sources of evidence and are complimented by secondary which will analyze and give context to primary sources.

Some examples of primary sources are:

  • diaries and letters
  • academic articles reporting NEW data and findings - these are often peer reviewed and called empirical research
  • works of literature (poems, novels, etc.)
  • works of fine art (paintings, sculpture, pottery, etc.)
  • works of performance art (music, fictional films, plays, musicals, operas, etc.
  • official records from a government, judicial court, or company
  • oral histories
  • autobiographies
  • eyewitness new reports*

*Newspaper articles that report on a recent event can be primary sources, but articles that rehash previous events are not primary sources, unless they add new information to the story.

Where do I find primary sources?

It depends on your discipline, but here are are some places to start.

  • Academic journals are the main place that most researchers will initially publish the results of their research and/or experiments, though some disciplines will favor book length publications.
  • Creative works like novels, films, music, and other works of art can often be found through the library catalog or special databases from that discipline.
  • Historical sources like newspapers, diaries, letters, oral histories, and more can be found through archival collections, like the Genesee Historical Collections Center and the many online archival databases we subscribe to.
  • The library's homepage search box or subject specific database are great places to start searching!
  • Library Homepage
  • Thompson Library Research Guides All of the library's research and course guides. Find databases and resources on specific disciplines.

Secondary sources   offer an analysis or a restatement of an event or discovery described in primary sources. They interpret, explain, critique, or otherwise analyze primary sources. Some secondary sources are used to persuade the reader and may be considered less objective. 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • criticism of a work of art, music, or fiction
  • publications that discuss or analyze a topic
  • articles and editorials that interpret or review research works or other primary sources*
  • some nonfiction books written for general public for entertainment purposes rather than scholarship
  • some textbooks

*Many academic articles include short literature reviews to establish a starting place or a jumping off point for their own, original research; these are still considered primary sources. However, articles that only review or analyze previously published articles  and contain no new research are secondary sources; these articles are called systematic literature reviews and can be good sources of information about the state of research on a certain topic.

Where do I find secondary sources?

  • Academic journals will often publish review articles or publications that critically analyze .
  • News sources that offer editorials

Tertiary sources offer a summary or restatement of facts and research from both primary and secondary sources. The main difference between secondary and tertiary sources is that tertiary sources offer no new information and no analysis of the information from primary and secondary sources.

Tertiary sources are often great places to collect background information and to help locate primary and secondary research.

Examples of tertiary sources include:

  • dictionaries
  • encyclopedias
  • bibliographies

Where do I find tertiary sources?

The following databases contain reference sources like encyclopedia, dictionaries, and handbooks.

U-M login required

Authoritative coverage of thousands of topics in all areas of study.

Encyclopaedia Britannica's latest article database (including hundreds of articles not found in the print edition), Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus, and the Britannica Book of the Year (1994-present), with thousands of web links selected by editors. Updated daily.

Recent editions of many major reference books.

Over 400 dictionary, language reference, and subject reference works published by Oxford University Press

Fully indexed, cross-searchable database of over 400 dictionary, language reference, and subject reference works published by Oxford University Press. Includes subject reference works in the humanities, social sciences, and science--both "Quick Reference" titles (concise dictionaries, etc.) and larger "Reference Library" titles (multi-volume encyclopedias, etc.).

A searchable collection of over 150 scholarly encyclopedias, handbooks, and reference books in the social sciences.

Covers anthropology, communication, education, geography, health, history, law, management, politics, psychology, and sociology.

Concise introductions to a diverse range of subject areas in the sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities.

  • Next: Scholarly vs. Popular Publications >>
  • Last Updated: Oct 30, 2023 4:57 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.umflint.edu/idinfosources

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Literature Reviews: Types of Literature

  • Library Basics
  • 1. Choose Your Topic
  • How to Find Books
  • Types of Clinical Study Designs

Types of Literature

  • 3. Search the Literature
  • 4. Read & Analyze the Literature
  • 5. Write the Review
  • Keeping Track of Information
  • Style Guides
  • Books, Tutorials & Examples

Different types of publications have different characteristics.

Primary Literature Primary sources means original studies, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews, or experimental methods, of actual practices or the actual impact of practices or policies. They are authored by researchers, contains original research data, and are usually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Primary literature may also include conference papers, pre-prints, or preliminary reports. Also called empirical research .

Secondary Literature Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples include review articles (such as meta-analysis and systematic reviews) and reference works. Professionals within each discipline take the primary literature and synthesize, generalize, and integrate new research.

Tertiary Literature Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

Adapted from the Information Services Department of the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago , University of Illinois at Chicago.

Types of Scientific Publications

These examples and descriptions of publication types will give you an idea of how to use various works and why you would want to write a particular kind of paper.

  • Scholarly article aka empirical article
  • Review article
  • Conference paper

Scholarly (aka empirical) article -- example

Empirical studies use data derived from observation or experiment. Original research papers (also called primary research articles) that describe empirical studies and their results are published in academic journals.  Articles that report empirical research contain different sections which relate to the steps of the scientific method.

      Abstract - The abstract provides a very brief summary of the research.

     Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.

     Method - The method section describes how the research was conducted.

     Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the study.

     Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.

     References - A references section lists the articles, books, and other material cited in the report.

Review article -- example

A review article summarizes a particular field of study and places the recent research in context. It provides an overview and is an excellent introduction to a subject area. The references used in a review article are helpful as they lead to more in-depth research.

Many databases have limits or filters to search for review articles. You can also search by keywords like review article, survey, overview, summary, etc.

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports -- example

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports are not usually peer-reviewed.  A conference article is similar to a scholarly article insofar as it is academic. Conference articles are published much more quickly than scholarly articles. You can find conference papers in many of the same places as scholarly articles.

How Do You Identify Empirical Articles?

To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:

     The article is published in a peer-reviewed journal .

     The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis .

     The article is substantial in size , likely to be more than 5 pages long.

     The article contains the following parts (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references .

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  • Last Updated: Dec 29, 2023 11:41 AM
  • URL: https://research.library.gsu.edu/litrev

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  • Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples

Published on June 20, 2018 by Raimo Streefkerk . Revised on May 31, 2023.

When you do research, you have to gather information and evidence from a variety of sources.

Primary sources provide raw information and first-hand evidence. Examples include interview transcripts, statistical data, and works of art. Primary research gives you direct access to the subject of your research.

Secondary sources provide second-hand information and commentary from other researchers. Examples include journal articles, reviews, and academic books . Thus, secondary research describes, interprets, or synthesizes primary sources.

Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but good research uses both primary and secondary sources.

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Table of contents

What is a primary source, what is a secondary source, primary and secondary source examples, how to tell if a source is primary or secondary, primary vs secondary sources: which is better, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about primary and secondary sources.

A primary source is anything that gives you direct evidence about the people, events, or phenomena that you are researching. Primary sources will usually be the main objects of your analysis.

If you are researching the past, you cannot directly access it yourself, so you need primary sources that were produced at the time by participants or witnesses (e.g. letters, photographs, newspapers ).

If you are researching something current, your primary sources can either be qualitative or quantitative data that you collect yourself (e.g. through interviews , surveys , experiments ) or sources produced by people directly involved in the topic (e.g. official documents or media texts).

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A secondary source is anything that describes, interprets, evaluates, or analyzes information from primary sources. Common examples include:

  • Books , articles and documentaries that synthesize information on a topic
  • Synopses and descriptions of artistic works
  • Encyclopedias and textbooks that summarize information and ideas
  • Reviews and essays that evaluate or interpret something

When you cite a secondary source, it’s usually not to analyze it directly. Instead, you’ll probably test its arguments against new evidence or use its ideas to help formulate your own.

Examples of sources that can be primary or secondary

A secondary source can become a primary source depending on your research question . If the person, context, or technique that produced the source is the main focus of your research, it becomes a primary source.

Documentaries

If you are researching the causes of World War II, a recent documentary about the war is a secondary source . But if you are researching the filmmaking techniques used in historical documentaries, the documentary is a primary source .

Reviews and essays

If your paper is about the novels of Toni Morrison, a magazine review of one of her novels is a secondary source . But if your paper is about the critical reception of Toni Morrison’s work, the review is a primary source .

Newspaper articles

If your aim is to analyze the government’s economic policy, a newspaper article about a new policy is a secondary source . But if your aim is to analyze media coverage of economic issues, the newspaper article is a primary source .

To determine if something can be used as a primary or secondary source in your research, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does this source come from someone directly involved in the events I’m studying (primary) or from another researcher (secondary)?
  • Am I interested in evaluating the source itself (primary) or only using it for background information (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary) or does it comment upon information from other sources (secondary)?

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differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

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Most research uses both primary and secondary sources. They complement each other to help you build a convincing argument. Primary sources are more credible as evidence, but secondary sources show how your work relates to existing research. Tertiary sources are often used in the first, exploratory stage of research.

What do you use primary sources for?

Primary sources are the foundation of original research. They allow you to:

  • Make new discoveries
  • Provide credible evidence for your arguments
  • Give authoritative information about your topic

If you don’t use any primary sources, your research may be considered unoriginal or unreliable.

What do you use secondary sources for?

Secondary sources are good for gaining a full overview of your topic and understanding how other researchers have approached it. They often synthesize a large number of primary sources that would be difficult and time-consuming to gather by yourself. They allow you to:

  • Gain background information on the topic
  • Support or contrast your arguments with other researchers’ ideas
  • Gather information from primary sources that you can’t access directly (e.g. private letters or physical documents located elsewhere)

When you conduct a literature review or meta analysis, you can consult secondary sources to gain a thorough overview of your topic. If you want to mention a paper or study that you find cited in a secondary source, seek out the original source and cite it directly.

Remember that all primary and secondary sources must be cited to avoid plagiarism . You can use Scribbr’s free citation generator to do so!

If you want to know more about ChatGPT, AI tools , citation , and plagiarism , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • ChatGPT vs human editor
  • ChatGPT citations
  • Is ChatGPT trustworthy?
  • Using ChatGPT for your studies
  • What is ChatGPT?
  • Chicago style
  • Paraphrasing

 Plagiarism

  • Types of plagiarism
  • Self-plagiarism
  • Avoiding plagiarism
  • Academic integrity
  • Consequences of plagiarism
  • Common knowledge

Common examples of primary sources include interview transcripts , photographs, novels, paintings, films, historical documents, and official statistics.

Anything you directly analyze or use as first-hand evidence can be a primary source, including qualitative or quantitative data that you collected yourself.

Common examples of secondary sources include academic books, journal articles , reviews, essays , and textbooks.

Anything that summarizes, evaluates or interprets primary sources can be a secondary source. If a source gives you an overview of background information or presents another researcher’s ideas on your topic, it is probably a secondary source.

To determine if a source is primary or secondary, ask yourself:

  • Was the source created by someone directly involved in the events you’re studying (primary), or by another researcher (secondary)?
  • Does the source provide original information (primary), or does it summarize information from other sources (secondary)?
  • Are you directly analyzing the source itself (primary), or only using it for background information (secondary)?

Some types of source are nearly always primary: works of art and literature, raw statistical data, official documents and records, and personal communications (e.g. letters, interviews ). If you use one of these in your research, it is probably a primary source.

Primary sources are often considered the most credible in terms of providing evidence for your argument, as they give you direct evidence of what you are researching. However, it’s up to you to ensure the information they provide is reliable and accurate.

Always make sure to properly cite your sources to avoid plagiarism .

A fictional movie is usually a primary source. A documentary can be either primary or secondary depending on the context.

If you are directly analyzing some aspect of the movie itself – for example, the cinematography, narrative techniques, or social context – the movie is a primary source.

If you use the movie for background information or analysis about your topic – for example, to learn about a historical event or a scientific discovery – the movie is a secondary source.

Whether it’s primary or secondary, always properly cite the movie in the citation style you are using. Learn how to create an MLA movie citation or an APA movie citation .

Articles in newspapers and magazines can be primary or secondary depending on the focus of your research.

In historical studies, old articles are used as primary sources that give direct evidence about the time period. In social and communication studies, articles are used as primary sources to analyze language and social relations (for example, by conducting content analysis or discourse analysis ).

If you are not analyzing the article itself, but only using it for background information or facts about your topic, then the article is a secondary source.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Streefkerk, R. (2023, May 31). Primary vs. Secondary Sources | Difference & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/working-with-sources/primary-and-secondary-sources/

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Chapter 2: What is a Literature Review?

Learning objectives.

At the conclusion of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Recognize how information is created and how it evolves over time.
  • Identify how the information cycle impacts the reliability of the information.
  • Select information sources appropriate to information need.

2.1 Overview of information

Because a literature review is a summary and analysis of the relevant publications on a topic, we first have to understand what is meant by ‘the literature’.  In this case, ‘the literature’ is a collection of all of the relevant written sources on a topic.  It will include both theoretical and empirical works.  Both types provide scope and depth to a literature review.

differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

2.1.1 Disciplines of knowledge

When drawing boundaries around an idea, topic, or subject area, it helps to think about how and where the information for the field is produced. For this, you need to identify the disciplines of knowledge production in a subject area.

Information does not exist in the environment like some kind of raw material. It is produced by individuals working within a particular field of knowledge who use specific methods for generating new information. Disciplines are knowledge-producing and -disseminating systems which consume, produce and disseminate knowledge. Looking through a  course catalog of a post-secondary educational institution gives clues to the structure of a discipline structure. Fields such as political science, biology, history and mathematics are unique disciplines, as are education and nursing, with their own logic for how and where new knowledge is introduced and made accessible.

You will need to become comfortable with identifying the disciplines that might contribute information to any search strategy. When you do this, you will also learn how to decode the way how people talk about a topic within a discipline. This will be useful to you when you begin a  review of the literature in your area of study.

For example, think about the disciplines that might contribute information to a the topic such as  the role of sports in society. Try to anticipate the type of perspective each discipline might have on the topic. Consider the following types of questions as you examine what different disciplines might contribute:

  • What is important about the topic to the people in that discipline?
  • What is most likely to be the focus of their study about the topic?
  • What perspective would they be likely to have on the topic?

In this example, we identify two disciplines that have something to say about the role of sports in society: allied health and education. What would each of these disciplines raise as key questions or issues related to that topic?

2.1.1.1 Nursing

  • how sports affect individuals’ health and well-being
  • assessing and treating sports injuries
  • physical conditioning for athletes

2.1.1.2 Education

  • how schools privilege or punish student athletes
  • how young people are socialized into the ideal of team cooperation
  • differences between boys’ and girls’ participation in organized sports

We see that a single topic can be approached from many different perspectives depending on how the disciplinary boundaries are drawn and how the topic is framed. This step of the research process requires you to make some decisions early on to focus the topic on a manageable and appropriate scope for the rest of the strategy. ( Hansen & Paul, 2015 ).

‘The literature’ consists of the published works that document a scholarly conversation in a field of study. You will find, in ‘the literature,’ documents that explain the background of your topic so the reader knows where you found loose ends in the established research of the field and what led you to your own project.  Although your own literature review will focus on primary, peer-reviewed resources, it will begin by first grounding yourself in background subject information generally found in secondary and tertiary sources such as books and encyclopedias.  Once you have that essential overview, you delve into the seminal literature of the field. As a result, while your literature review may consist of research articles tightly focused on your topic with secondary and tertiary sources used more sparingly, all three types of information (primary, secondary, tertiary) are critical to your research.

2.1.2 Definitions

  • Theoretical – discusses a theory, conceptual model or framework for understanding a problem.
  • Empirical – applies theory to a behavior or event and reports derived data to findings.
  • Seminal – “A classic work of research literature that is more than 5 years old and is marked by its uniqueness and contribution to professional knowledge.” ( Houser, 4th ed., 2018, p. 112 ).
  • Practical – “…accounts of how things are done” ( Wallace & Wray, 3rd ed., 2016, p. 20 ). Action research, in Education, refers to a wide variety of methods used to develop practical solutions. ( Great Schools Partnership, 2017 ).
  • Policy – generally produced by policy-makers, such as government agencies.
  • Primary – published results of original research studies .
  • Secondary – interpret, discuss, summarize original sources
  • Tertiary – synthesize or distill primary and secondary sources.  Examples include: encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries, handbooks, guides, classification, chronology, and other fact books.
  • Grey literature – research and information released by non-commercial publishers, such as government agencies, policy organizations, and think-tanks.

‘The literature’ is published in books, journal articles, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations.  It can also be found in newspapers, encyclopedias, textbooks, as well as websites and reports written by government agencies and professional organizations. While these formats may contain what we define as ‘the literature’, not all of it will be appropriate for inclusion in your own literature review.

These sources are found through different tools that we will discuss later in this section. Although a discovery tool, such as a database or catalog, may link you to the ‘the literature’ not every tool is appropriate to every literature review.  No single source will have all of the information resources you should consult.  A comprehensive literature review should include searches in the following:

  • Multiple subject and article databases
  • Library and other book catalogs
  • Grey literature sources

2.2 Information Cycle

To get a better idea of how the literature in a discipline develops, it’s useful to see how the information publication lifecycle works.  These distinct stages show how information is created, reviewed, and distributed over time.

Tutorial on "The Publication Cycle and Scientific Research" Click on image to follow full tutorial. Link: https://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/3/3.093/f06/tutorials/pub-cycle-with-quiz.swf

The following chart can be used to guide you in searching literature existing at various stages of the scholarly communication process (freely accessible sources are linked, subscription or subscribed sources are listed but not linked):

Figure 2.2 shows a continuous circle containing six bubbles that illustrate how an idea for a research study proceeds through evaluation for quality by peers to publication. After publication, the study is disseminated in print or electronic form and accessed through libraries, vendors, and the web. Preservation and reuse make up the remaining bubbles.

2.3 Information Types

To continue our discussion of information sources, there are two ways published information in the field can be categorized:

  • Articles by the type of periodical in which an article it is published, for example, magazine, trade, or scholarly publications .
  • Where the material is located in the information cycle, as in primary, secondary, or tertiary information sources .

2.3.1 Popular, Trade, or Scholarly publications

2.3.1.1 types of periodicals.

Journals, trade publications, and magazines are all periodicals, and articles from these publications they can all look similar article by article when you are searching in the databases. It is good to review the differences and think about when to use information from each type of periodical.

2.3.1.2 Magazines

A magazine is a collection of articles and images about diverse topics of popular interest and current events.

Features of magazines:

  • articles are usually written by journalists
  • articles are written for the average adult
  • articles tend to be short
  • articles rarely provides a list of reference sources at the end of the article
  • lots of color images and advertisements
  • the decision about what goes into the magazine is made by an editor or publisher
  • magazines can have broad appeal, like Time and Newsweek , or a narrow focus, like Sports Illustrated and Mother Earth News .

differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

Popular magazines like Psychology Today , Sports Illustrated , and Rolling Stone can be good sources for articles on recent events or pop-culture topics, while Harpers , Scientific American , and The New Republic will offer more in-depth articles on a wider range of subjects. These articles are geared towards readers who, although not experts, are knowledgeable about the issues presented.

2.3.1.3 Trade Publications

Trade publications or trade journals are periodicals directed to members of a specific profession. They often have information about industry trends and practical information for people working in the field.

Features of trade publications:

  • Authors are specialists in their fields
  • Focused on members of a specific industry or profession
  • No peer review process
  • Include photographs, illustrations, charts, and graphs, often in color
  • Technical vocabulary

Trade publications are geared towards professionals in a discipline. They report news and trends in a field, but not original research. They may provide product or service reviews, job listings, and advertisements.

2.3.1.4 Scholarly, Academic, and Scientific Publications

Scholarly, academic, and scientific publications are a collections of articles written by scholars in an academic or professional field. Most journals are peer-reviewed or refereed, which means a panel of scholars reviews articles to decide if they should be accepted into a specific publication. Journal articles are the main source of information for researchers and for literature reviews.

Features of journals:

  • written by scholars and subject experts
  • author’ credentials and institution will be identified
  • written for other scholars
  • dedicated to a specific discipline that it covers in depth
  • often report on original or innovative research
  • long articles, often 5-15 pages or more
  • articles almost always include a list of sources at the end (Works Cited, References, Sources, or Bibliography) that point back to where the information was derived
  • no or very few advertisements
  • published by organizations or associations to advance their specialized body of knowledge

Scholarly journals provider articles of interest to experts or researchers in a discipline. An editorial board of respected scholars (peers) reviews all articles submitted to a journal. They decide if the article provides a noteworthy contribution to the field and should be published. There are typically few  little or no advertisements. Articles published in scholarly journals will include a list of references.

2.3.1.5 A word about open access journals

Increasingly, scholars are publishing findings and original research in open access journals .   Open access journals are scholarly and peer-reviewed and open access publishers provide unrestricted access and unrestricted use.  Open access is a means of disseminating scholarly research that breaks from the traditional subscription model of academic publishing. It is free of charge to readers and because it is online, it is available at anytime, anywhere in the world, to anyone with access to the internet.  The Directory of Open Access Journals ( DOAJ ) indexes and provides access to high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarly articles.

In summary, newspapers and other popular press publications are useful for getting general topic ideas. Trade publications are useful for practical application in a profession and may also be a good source of keywords for future searching. Scholarly journals are the conversation of the scholars who are doing research in a specific discipline and publishing their research findings.

2.3.1.6 Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary sources of information are those types of information that come first. Some examples of primary sources are:

  • original research, like data from an experiment with plankton.
  • diaries, journals, photographs
  • data from the census bureau or a survey you have done
  • original documents, like the constitution or a birth certificate
  • newspapers are primary sources when they report current events or current opinion
  • speeches, interviews, email, letters
  • religious books
  • personal memoirs and autobiographies
  • pottery or weavings

There are different types of primary sources for different disciplines.  In the discipline of history, for example, a diary or transcript of a speech is a primary source.  In education and nursing, primary sources will generally be original research, including data sets.

Secondary sources are written about primary sources to interpret or analyze them. They are a step or more removed from the primary event or item. Some examples of secondary sources are:

  • commentaries on speeches
  • critiques of plays, journalism, or books
  • a journal article that talks about a primary source such as an interpretation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or the flower symbolism of Monet’s water garden paintings
  • textbooks (can also be considered tertiary)
  • biographies
  • encyclopedias

Tertiary sources are further removed from the original material and are a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources. Some examples are:

  • bibliography of critical works about an author
  • textbooks (also considered secondary)

A comparison of information sources across disciplines:

2.4 Information Sources

In this section, we discuss how to find not only information, but the sources of information in your discipline or topic area.  As we see in the graphic and chart above, the information you need for your literature review will be located in multiple places.  How and where research and publication occurs drives how and where the information is located, which in turn determines how you will discover and retrieve it.  When we talk about information sources for a literature review in education or nursing, we generally mean these five areas: the internet, reference material and other books, empirical or evidence-based articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings and papers, dissertations and theses, and grey literature.

The World Wide Web can be an excellent place to satisfy some initial research needs.

  • It is a good resource for background information and for finding keywords for searching in the library catalog and databases.
  • It is a good tool for locating professional organizations and searching for information and the names of experts in a given discipline.
  • Google Scholar is a useful discovery tool for citations, especially if you are trying to get the lay of the land surrounding your topic or if you are having a problem with keywords in the databases. You can find some information to refine your search terms. It is NOT acceptable to depend on Google Scholar for finding articles because of the spotty coverage and lack of adequate search features.

2.4.2 Books and Reference Sources

Reference materials and books are available in both print and electronic formats. They provide gateway knowledge to a subject area and are useful at the beginning of the research process to:

  • Get an overview of the topic, learn the scope, key definitions, significant figures who are involved, and important timelines
  • Discover the foundations of a topic
  • Learn essential definitions, vocabulary terms, and keywords you can use in your literature searching strategy

2.4.3 Scholarly Articles in Journals

Another major category of information sources is scholarly information produced by subject experts working in academic institutions, research centers and scholarly organizations. Scholars and researchers generate information that advances our knowledge and understanding of the world. The research they do creates new opportunities for inventions, practical applications, and new approaches to solving problems or understanding issues.

Academics, researchers and students at universities make their contributions to scholarly knowledge available in many forms:

  • masters’ theses
  • doctoral dissertations
  • conference papers
  • journal articles and books
  • individual scholars’ web pages
  • web pages developed by the researcher’s’ home institution (Hansen & Paul, 2015).

Scholars and researchers introduce their discoveries to the world in a formal system of information dissemination that has developed over centuries. Because scholarly research undergoes a process of “peer review” before being published (meaning that other experts review the work and pass judgment about whether it is worthy of publication), the information you find from scholarly sources meets preset standards for accuracy, credibility and validity in that field.

Likewise, scholarly journal articles are generally considered to be among the most reliable sources of information because they have gone through a peer-review process.

2.4.5 Conference Papers & Proceedings

Conferences are a major source of  emerging research where researchers present papers on their current research and obtain feedback from the audience.  The papers presented in the conference are then usually published in a volume called a conference proceeding.  Conference proceedings highlight current discussion in a discipline and can lead you to scholars who are interested in specific research areas.

A word about conference papers: several factors contribute to making these documents difficult to find.  It may be months before a paper is published as a journal article, or it may never be published.  Publishers and professional associations are inconsistent in how they publish proceedings.  For example, the papers from an annual conference may be published as individual, stand-alone titles, which may be indexed in a library catalog, or the conference proceedings may be treated more like a periodical or serial and, therefore, indexed in a journal database.

It is not unusual that papers delivered at professional conferences are not published in print or electronic form, although an abstract may be available.  In these cases, the full paper may only be available from the author or authors.

The most important thing to remember is that if you have any difficulty finding a conference proceeding or paper, ask a librarian for assistance.

2.4.6 Dissertations and Theses

Dissertations and theses can be rich sources of information and have extensive reference lists to scan for resources. They are considered gray literature, so are not “peer reviewed”. The accuracy and validity of the paper itself may depend on the school that awarded the doctoral or master’s  degree to the author.

2.5 Conclusion

In thinking about ‘the literature’ of your discipline, you are beginning the first step in writing your own literature review.  By understanding what the literature in your field is, as well as how and when it is generated, you begin to know what is available and where to look for it.

We briefly discussed seven types of (sometimes overlapping) information:

  • information found on the web
  • information found in reference books and monographs
  • information found in scholarly journals
  • information found in conference proceedings and papers
  • information found in dissertations and theses
  • information found in magazines and trade journals
  • information that is primary, secondary, or tertiary.

By conceptualizing or scoping how and where the literature of your discipline or topic area is generated, you have started on your way to writing your own literature review.

Figure 2.3 illustrates what skills are needed to find what is available on a topic. Students should be able to understand, know, and recognize different types of information, the publication process, issues of accessibility, and what services are available to help them. In this way, students are able to identify different types of information, available search tools, different information formats, and use new tools as they become available.

Finally, remember:

“All information sources are not created equal. Sources can vary greatly in terms of how carefully they are researched, written, edited, and reviewed for accuracy. Common sense will help you identify obviously questionable sources, such as tabloids that feature tales of alien abductions, or personal websites with glaring typos. Sometimes, however, a source’s reliability—or lack of it—is not so obvious…You will consider criteria such as the type of source, its intended purpose and audience, the author’s (or authors’) qualifications, the publication’s reputation, any indications of bias or hidden agendas, how current the source is, and the overall quality of the writing, thinking, and design.”  ( Writing for Success, 2015, p. 448 ).

We will cover how to evaluate sources in more detail in Chapter 5.

For each of these information needs, indicate what resources would be the best fit to answer your question. There may be more than one source so don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to only one. See Answer Key for the correct response.

  • You are to write a brief paper on a theory that you only vaguely understand. You need some basic information. Where would you look?
  • If you heard something on the radio about a recent research involving an herbal intervention for weight loss where could you find the actual study?
  • You are going to be doing an internship in a group home for young men. You have heard that one issue that comes up for them is anger. Where would you look for practical interventions to help you manage this problem if it came up?
  • You have the opportunity to work on a research project through a grant proposal. You need to justify the research question and show that there is an interest and a need for this research. What resources would you cite in your application?
  • You have been assigned a project to find primary sources about classroom discipline used in early 20th-century schools. What primary sources could you use and where would you find them?
  • You have an idea for a great thesis but you are afraid that it has been done before. Since you would like to do something original, where could you find out if someone else has done the project?
  • There was a post on Facebook that welfare recipients in Arizona were recently tested for drug use with only three in 140,000 having positive results. Where can I find out if this number is accurate?

Test Yourself

Question 1  match the type of periodical to its content.

Trade publication Scholarly journal Magazine

  • Contains articles about a variety of topics of popular interest; also contains advertising.
  • Has information about industry trends and practical information for professionals in a field.
  • Contains articles written by scholars in an academic field and reviewed by experts in that field.

Question 2: Given what you know about information types and sources, put the following information sources in order from the least accurate and reliable  to the most accurate and reliable. (1 least accurate/4 most accurate)

  • Books and encyclopedias
  • News broadcasts and social media directly following an event.
  • Analysis of an event in the news media or popular magazine weeks after an event.
  • Articles written by scholars and published in a journal.

Question 3: What is information called that is either a diary, a speech, original research, data, artwork, or a religious book.

Question 4: to find the best information in the databases you need to use keywords that are used by the scholars. where do you find out what keywords to try.

  • From websites
  • In journal articles
  • All of the above

Question 5: Which of the following is NOT true about scholarly journals?

  • They contain the conversation of the scholars on a particular subject.
  • They are of interest to the general public.
  • The articles are followed by an extensive reference list.
  • They contain reports of original research.

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Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students Copyright © by Linda Frederiksen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Princeton University Library

Wri101 into the deep past.

  • Comparison of Google, Scholar, Articles+, and Web of Science
  • Working with Wikipedia
  • Finding articles using a database
  • Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources
  • News sources
  • Managing sources
  • Academic Integrity at Princeton

Primary v Secondary Sources

The Standard Definition

In historical writing, a primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include: * ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records * CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art * RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings Examples of primary sources include: * Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII * The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History * A journal article reporting NEW research or findings * Weavings and pottery - Native American history * Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece What is a secondary source? A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include: * PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias Examples of secondary sources include: * A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings * A history textbook * A book about the effects of WWI Search by keyword for Primary Sources in the Main Catalog You can search the Main Catalog to find direct references to primary source material. Perform a keyword search for your topic and add one of the words below: (these are several examples of words that would identify a source as primary) * charters * correspondence * diaries * early works * interviews * manuscripts * oratory * pamphlets * personal narratives * sources * speeches * letters * documents

Another Possible Usage

PRIMARY SOURCE (more frequently PRIMARY TEXT) is sometimes used in a different sense in some types of classes. In a literature class, for example, the primary source might be a novel about which you are writing, and secondary sources those sources also writing about that novel (i.e., literary criticism). However, if you were writing about the literary criticism itself and making an argument about literary theory and the practice of literary criticism, some would use the term PRIMARY SOURCE to refer to the criticism about which you are writing, and secondary sources other sources also making theoretical arguments about the practice of literary criticism. In this second sense of primary source, whatever you are primarily writing ABOUT becomes the primary source, and secondary sources are those sources also writing about that source. Often this will be called the PRIMARY TEXT, but some people do use primary source with this meaning.

Tertiary Sources

Just so you can keep up with all the scholarly jargon about sources, a tertiary source is a source that builds upon secondary sources to provide information. The most common example is an encyclopedia. Consider a particular revolution as an historical event. All the documents from the time become primary sources. All the historians writing later produce secondary sources. Then someone reads those secondary sources and summarizes them in an encyclopedia article, which becomes a tertiary source. If someone then collected a bibliography of encyclopedia articles on the topic, that might be a quarternary source, but at that point the whole thing just becomes silly.

Evaluating Sources

  • Critically Analyzing Information Sources Some questions to consider when evaluating sources.
  • Distinguishing Scholarly Journals from other Periodicals You need a scholarly journal article. How do you know if you have one?

Evaluating Websites

FROM: Kapoun, Jim. "Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: A guide for library instruction." C&RL News (July/August 1998): 522-523.

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Conducting a Literature Review: Types of Literature

  • Introduction
  • 1. Choose Your Topic

Types of Literature

  • 3. Search the Literature
  • 4. Read & Analyze the Literature
  • 5. Write the Review
  • Keeping Track of Information
  • Style Guides

Different types of publications have different characteristics.

Primary Literature Primary sources means original studies, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews, or experimental methods, of actual practices or the actual impact of practices or policies. They are authored by researchers, contains original research data, and are usually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Primary literature may also include conference papers, pre-prints, or preliminary reports. Also called empirical research .

Secondary Literature Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples include review articles (such as meta-analysis and systematic reviews) and reference works. Professionals within each discipline take the primary literature and synthesize, generalize, and integrate new research.

Tertiary Literature Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

Adapted from the Information Services Department of the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago , University of Illinois at Chicago.

Types of Scientific Publications

These examples and descriptions of publication types will give you an idea of how to use various works and why you would want to write a particular kind of paper.

  • Scholarly article aka empirical article
  • Review article
  • Conference paper

Scholarly (aka empirical) article -- example

Empirical studies use data derived from observation or experiment. Original research papers (also called primary research articles) that describe empirical studies and their results are published in academic journals.  Articles that report empirical research contain different sections which relate to the steps of the scientific method.

      Abstract - The abstract provides a very brief summary of the research.

     Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.

     Method - The method section describes how the research was conducted.

     Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the study.

     Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.

     References - A references section lists the articles, books, and other material cited in the report.

Review article -- example

A review article summarizes a particular field of study and places the recent research in context. It provides an overview and is an excellent introduction to a subject area. The references used in a review article are helpful as they lead to more in-depth research.

Many databases have limits or filters to search for review articles. You can also search by keywords like review article, survey, overview, summary, etc.

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports -- example

Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports are not usually peer-reviewed.  A conference article is similar to a scholarly article insofar as it is academic. Conference articles are published much more quickly than scholarly articles. You can find conference papers in many of the same places as scholarly articles.

How Do You Identify Empirical Articles?

To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:

     The article is published in a peer-reviewed journal .

     The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis .

     The article is substantial in size , likely to be more than 5 pages long.

     The article contains the following parts (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references .

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*Research and Writing: Integrated Skills & Strategies*

  • Information Literacy
  • Information Formats
  • Popular, Trade, and Scholarly Sources
  • Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources
  • Deconstructing an Assignment
  • Picking a Topic
  • Brainstorming and Prewriting
  • Research Question and Thesis
  • Choosing Keywords
  • Creating Search Statements
  • Evaluating Sources
  • Literature Reviews
  • Source Integration
  • Annotated Bibliographies
  • Finding Information Gaps
  • Citation Styles
  • APA, 7th edition
  • MLA, 8th edition
  • Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition
  • Copyright and Fair Use
  • "Am I done?"

On This Page

information basics icon

Material Type

Primary sources, secondary sources, tertiary sources, a note about websites, still struggling.

Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful.  Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.

  • Ask-a-Librarian
  • Meet with a Writing Consultant

Categorizing types of material is another way that you can organize information.  A source of information can be primary, secondary, or tertiary  depending on when it was created, its purpose and scope, and (sometimes) what discipline is using it.  

It is essential to understand the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of information so that you know when to use each type in your research.  Remember, determining what type of material a source is can be challenging as it can vary by academic discipline and use.  The sections below will help you recognize the differences between each type of material and provide you with examples of each.

image of primary sources

Primary sources provide information in its original or purest form, meaning that the information has not been condensed, filtered, changed, or interpreted.

Many primary sources are created, experienced, or collected simultaneously to the time period or "event" that is being researched.  For example, if you were researching music of the 1980s, a song by a famous 1980s performer like Madonna would be a primary source.  However, some primary sources, like memoirs and interviews, may be published or provided after the time being researched because they are still reflecting firsthand experiences. Madonna could publish a memoir in 2020 that still counted as a primary source for the above scenario if it provided a firsthand account of her experiences in the 1980s. 

Examples of primary source materials vary by discipline.  In the physical and social sciences, primary sources include original research studies and data sets (like census data or survey results) in their raw, unanalyzed form.  In the arts, original artwork, music, movies, and literature are primary sources.  For history, historic speeches, letters, maps, newspapers, physical objects, and government documents are also considered primary sources.

image of secondary sources

Secondary sources provide information about  a primary source or a set of primary sources.  These sources restate, rearrange, or interpret the original information provided in a primary source.  Secondary sources are often created by experts in the field and address the given subject from a historical or critical perspective. providing discussion or analysis of specific aspects.  

Secondary sources include biographies, research articles (for physical and social sciences, this refers to articles that don't include the authors' original research ) , monographs (other than autobiographies and memoirs), commentaries, and criticisms. 

Secondary sources may have some overlap with other types of materials.  For example, newspaper articles are primary sources in the field of history but secondary in most other disciplines.  Encyclopedias and textbooks are sometimes considered secondary sources although they are usually identified as tertiary.  Remember, you can always check with a librarian or your professor if you need help identifying the type of source you're using!

image of tertiary sources

Tertiary sources compile, index, or organize information from primary and secondary sources.  These sources rarely contain original material and instead typically offer a broad perspective of a topic without any critique or analysis.  Tertiary sources sometimes include a bibliography, works cited, or reference list that can act as a directory to important primary and secondary sources.

Because tertiary sources often aim to provide a broad overview, they generally rely on groups of authors for content.  Editors then review and organize the material prior to publication.

Some common examples of tertiary sources are encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, bibliographies, and directories.  Wikipedia is an example of an online tertiary source.

Tertiary sources occasionally have some overlap with other materials.  As seen in "Secondary Sources," encyclopedias are sometimes considered secondary sources.  Again, remember that you can always check with a librarian or your professor if you need help identifying the type of source you're using.

Just like other formats of information, websites can be primary, secondary, or tertiary sources depending on what information they're providing.  A website that provides interviews with survivors of 9/11 would be a primary source.  A website that used interviews with survivors of 9/11 to piece together a story of that day would be a secondary source.  A website that linked to other interviews, photographs, news reports, and stories from 9/11 would be a tertiary source.  

You might also come across websites that include primary, secondary, and tertiary information.  For example, the types of sources listed in the above paragraph could all be part of just one website.  In instances like this, remember to look at the individual pieces of information as well as the website as a whole when using it for your research.

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Chapter 10: Sources and Research

10.1 Types of Sources: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

This chapter will help you learn about the difference between those types of sources, here is a quick and useful reference:

“Scholarly and Popular Sources” by Carnegie Vincent Library is licensed under CC BY

The determination of a text as “popular” or “scholarly/academic” is one way to classify it and to understand what type of information you are engaging with.  Another way to classify sources is by considering whether they are primary, secondary or tertiary. Popular sources can be primary, secondary, or tertiary. Scholarly sources, also, can be primary, secondary, or tertiary.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are texts that arise directly from a particular event or time period. They may be letters, speeches, works of art, works of literature, diaries, direct personal observations, newspaper articles that offer direct observations of current events, survey responses, tweets, other social media posts, original scholarly research  (meaning research that the author or authors conduct themselves) or any other content that comes out of direct involvement with an event or a research study.

Primary research is information that has not yet been critiqued, interpreted or analyzed by a second (or third, etc) party.

Primary sources can be popular (if published in newspapers, magazines or websites for the general public) or academic (if written by scholars and published in scholarly journals).

Examples of primary sources:

  • journals, diaries
  • data from surveys or polls
  • scholarly journal articles in which the author(s) discuss the methods and results from their own original research/experiments
  • photos, videos, sound recordings
  • interviews or transcripts
  • poems, paintings, sculptures, songs or other works of art
  • government documents (such as reports of legislative sessions, laws or court decisions, financial or economic reports, and more)
  • Newspaper and Magazine articles that report directly on current events (although these can also be considered Secondary)
  • Investigative journalism (sometimes considered Secondary as well)

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources summarize, interpret, critique, analyze, or offer commentary on primary sources.

In a secondary source, an author’s subject is not necessarily something that he or she directly experienced. The author of a secondary source may be summarizing, interpreting or analyzing data or information from someone else’s research   or offering an interpretation or opinion on current events. Thus, the secondary source is one step away from that original, primary topic/subject/research study.

Secondary sources can be popular (if published in newspapers, magazines or websites for the general public) or academic (if written by scholars and published in scholarly journals).

Examples of secondary sources:

  • book, movie or art reviews
  • summaries of the findings from other people’s research
  • interpretations or analyses of primary source materials or other people’s research
  • histories or biographies
  • political commentary
  • Newspaper and Magazine articles that mainly synthesize others’ research or primary materials (remember, newspaper and magazine articles can also be considered primary, depending on the content)

What is a Tertiary Source?

Tertiary sources are syntheses of primary and secondary sources. The person/people who compose a tertiary text are summarizing, compiling, and/or paraphrasing others’ work. These sources sometimes do not even list an author. Often you would want to use a tertiary source to find both Primary and Secondary sources. Keep in mind that, too, that it may sometimes be difficult to categorize something as strictly tertiary, and that it may depend on how you decide to use the item in your research and writing. Your instructors will often not accept the sole use of tertiary sources for your papers. Instead, you should strive to only use tertiary sources to find more academic sources, as they often have titles of other works and links (f they are web-based) to more academic primary and secondary sources that you can use instead.

Tertiary sources can be popular or academic depending on the content and publisher.

Examples of tertiary sources include:

  • encyclopedias
  • dictionaries

“Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources” by sccclibrary

Now that you know what kinds of sources exist, it is important to remember that various disciplines find certain types of evidence to be more acceptable and appropriate than others. For instance, while the Humanities may consider anything from passages of text to art appropriate evidence, certain sciences may prefer data and statistics. What is most important to remember, no matter the discipline for which you are writing and pulling evidence, is that the evidence is never enough by itself. You must always be sure to explain why, and how, that evidence supports your claims or ideas. For more information on types of evidence considered appropriate for each academic discipline, you may click   here for section 8.3

Thinking about Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources and your Research Strategy

  • What kinds of primary sources would be useful for your research project? Why? Where will you find them? Are you more interested in popular primary sources or scholarly primary sources — and why?
  • What kinds of secondary sources could be useful for your project – and why? Are you more interested in popular secondary sources or scholarly secondary sources – and why?
  • What kinds of tertiary sources might you try to access? In what ways would this tertiary source help you in your research?

A Guide to Rhetoric, Genre, and Success in First-Year Writing by Melanie Gagich & Emilie Zickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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The Literature Review

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  • Primary vs secondary sources: The differences explained 

Can something be both a primary and secondary source?

Research for your literature review can be categorised as either primary or secondary in nature. The simplest definition of primary sources is either original information (such as survey data) or a first person account of an event (such as an interview transcript). Whereas secondary sources are any publshed or unpublished works that describe, summarise, analyse, evaluate, interpret or review primary source materials. Secondary sources can incorporate primary sources to support their arguments.

Ideally, good research should use a combination of both primary and secondary sources. For example, if a researcher were to investigate the introduction of a law and the impacts it had on a community, he/she might look at the transcripts of the parliamentary debates as well as the parliamentary commentary and news reporting surrounding the laws at the time. 

Examples of primary and secondary sources

Primary vs secondary sources: The differences explained

Finding primary sources

  • VU Special Collections  - The Special Collections at Victoria University Library are a valuable research resource. The Collections have strong threads of radical literature, particularly Australian Communist literature, much of which is rare or unique. Women and urban planning also feature across the Collections. There are collections that give you a picture of the people who donated them like Ray Verrills, John McLaren, Sir Zelman Cowen, and Ruth & Maurie Crow. Other collections focus on Australia's neighbours – PNG and Timor-Leste.
  • POLICY - Sharing the latest in policy knowledge and evidence, this database supports enhanced learning, collaboration and contribution.
  • Indigenous Australia  -  The Indigenous Australia database represents the collections of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Library.
  • Australian Heritage Bibliography - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Subset (AHB-ATSIS)  - AHB is a bibliographic database that indexes and abstracts articles from published and unpublished material on Australia's natural and cultural environment. The AHB-ATSIS subset contains records that specifically relate to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.include journal articles, unpublished reports, books, videos and conference proceedings from many different sources around Australia. Emphasis is placed on reports written or commissioned by government and non-government heritage agencies throughout the country.
  • ATSIhealth  - The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Bibliography (ATSIhealth), compiled by Neil Thomson and Natalie Weissofner at the School of Indigenous Australian Studies, Kurongkurl Katitjin, Edith Cowan University, is a bibliographic database that indexes published and unpublished material on Australian Indigenous health. Source documents include theses, unpublished articles, government reports, conference papers, abstracts, book chapters, books, discussion and working papers, and statistical documents. 
  • National Archive of Australia  - The National Archives of Australia holds the memory of our nation and keeps vital Australian Government records safe. 
  • National Library of Australia: Manuscripts  - Manuscripts collection that is wide ranging and provides rich evidence of the lives and activities of Australians who have shaped our society.
  • National Library of Australia: Printed ephemera  - The National Library has been selectively collecting Australian printed ephemera since the early 1960s as a record of Australian life and social customs, popular culture, national events, and issues of national concern.
  • National Library of Australia: Oral history and folklore - The Library’s Oral History and Folklore Collection dates back to the 1950’s and includes a rich and diverse collection of interviews and recordings with Australians from all walks of life.
  • Historic Hansard - Commonwealth of Australia parliamentary debates presented in an easy-to-read format for historians and other lovers of political speech.
  • The Old Bailey Online - A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London's central criminal court. 
  • British Library Sounds  - Listen to a selection from the British Library’s extensive collections of unique sound recordings, which come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds.

Whether or not a source can be considered both primary and  secondary, depends on the context. In some instances, material may act as a secondary source for one research area, and as a primary source for another. For example, Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince , published in 1513, is an important secondary source for any study of the various Renaissance princes in the Medici family; but the same book is also a primary source for the political thought that was characteristic of the sixteenth century because it reflects the attitudes of a person living in the 1500s.

Source: Craver, 1999, as cited in University of South Australia Library. (2021, Oct 6).  Can something be a primary and secondary source?.  University of South Australia Library. https://guides.library.unisa.edu.au/historycultural/sourcetypes

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Peer-Reviewed Literature: Peer-Reviewed Research: Primary vs. Secondary

  • Peer-Reviewed Research: Primary vs. Secondary
  • Types of Peer Review
  • Identifying Peer-Reviewed Research

Peer Reviewed Research

Published literature can be either peer-reviewed or non-peer-reviewed. Official research reports are almost always peer reviewed while a journal's other content is usually not. In the health sciences, official research can be primary, secondary, or even tertiary. It can be an original experiment or investigation (primary), an analysis or evaluation of primary research (secondary), or findings that compile secondary research (tertiary). If you are doing research yourself, then primary or secondary sources can reveal more in-depth information.

Primary Research

Primary research is information presented in its original form without interpretation by other researchers. While it may acknowledge previous studies or sources, it always presents original thinking, reports on discoveries, or new information about a topic.

Health sciences research that is primary includes both experimental trials and observational studies where subjects may be tested for outcomes or investigated to gain relevant insight.  Randomized Controlled Trials are the most prominent experimental design because randomized subjects offer the most compelling evidence for the effectiveness of an intervention. See the below graphic and below powerpoint for further information on primary research studies.

differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

  • Research Design

Secondary Research

Secondary research is an account of original events or facts. It is secondary to and retrospective of the actual findings from an experiment or trial. These studies may be appraised summaries, reviews, or interpretations of primary sources and often exclude the original researcher(s). In the health sciences, meta-analysis and systematic reviews are the most frequent types of secondary research. 

  • A meta-analysis is a quantitative method of combining the results of primary research. In analyzing the relevant data and statistical findings from experimental trials or observational studies, it can more accurately calculate effective resolutions regarding certain health topics.
  • A systematic review is a summary of research that addresses a focused clinical question in a systematic, reproducible manner. In order to provide the single best estimate of effect in clinical decision making, primary research studies are pooled together and then filtered through an inclusion/exclusion process. The relevant data and findings are then compiled and synthesized to arrive at a more accurate conclusion about a specific health topic. Only peer-reviewed publications are used and analyzed in a methodology which may or may not include a meta-analysis.

differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

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differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Defining primary, secondary and tertiary sources, primary, secondary and tertiary sources in disciplines, video: the information landscape, video: primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources provide first-hand observations or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders at or near the time of the event. They have not been filtered through further interpretation or evaluation. 

Primary sources may include

  • Original Documents: diaries, speeches, letters, interview transcripts, news footage, autobiographies, reports, census records, data from an experiment
  • Creative Works: poetry, plays, novels, music scores, films, paintings
  • Objects: clothing, buildings, tools, furniture

Secondary sources are works that analyze, assess or interpret a historical event, era or phenomenon.  They may use primary sources to to write a review, critique or interpretation often well after the event.

Secondary sources may include

  • journal articles, editorial articles, literacy criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks

Tertiary Sources are those used to identify and locate primary and secondary sources.

Tertiary sources may include

  • Reference Works: encyclopedias, abstracts
  • Lists or Collections: bibliographies, finding aids
  • Search Tools: library database or catalog, indexes

Using the Source

What is considered a primary source can vary depending on how you are using the source. 

For instance, if you were analyzing how authors of popular magazine articles discussed the Boeing 737 MAX crashes, the magazine articles would serve as your primary sources.  However, if you cited from a magazine article for your research paper on airline safety , the magazine would serve as a secondary source.

Different Disciplines

Disciplines may be more or less likely to work with specific types of primary sources. See this chart for examples.  If you unsure what is considered a primary source in your discipline, consult with your faculty instructor.

This video provides excellent definitions and examples of primary, secondary and tertiary sources.

(1:19) University of Huddersfield Library

Beyond definitions of primary, secondary and tertiary source types, this video provides useful examples of what would be primary, secondary and tertiary sources for research questions in different disciplines. See 1:48.

(2:33) Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) Library

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  • How to Identify Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

How to Identify Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: Home

  • Cycle of Information
  • Subject Headings

Ways to Determine Source Type

If you think about the publication details of the information and consider the following you will often find your answer:

Timing of the Event Recorded

If the article was composed close to the time of the event recorded, chances are it is primary material. For instance, a letter written by a soldier during the Vietnam War is primary material, as is an article written in the newspaper or a soldier's letter home during the Civil War. However, an article written analyzing the results of the battle at Gettysburg is secondary material.

Rhetorical Aim of the Written Item

Often, an item that is written with a persuasive or analytical aim is secondary material. Authors of these materials have digested and interpreted the event rather than reported on it.

Context of the Researching Scholar

Primary materials for a critic studying the literature of the Civil War are different from primary materials for a historian studying Civil War prisons. The critic's primary materials are the poems, stories, and films of the era. The research scientist's primary materials would be the diaries and writings of slave families.

What are Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources?

Primary Resources

These are original sources of information on which other research is based, including documents such as poems, diaries, court records, interviews, surveys, and fieldwork. Primary materials also include research results generated by experiments, which are published as journal articles in some fields of study, or as sets of data such as census statistics which have been tabulated but not interpreted.

Secondary Resources

These sources describe or analyze the primary source. Examples of secondary sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and books and articles that interpret or review research works.

Tertiary Resources

These sources list, compile, digest, or index primary or secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include indexes, handbooks, digests, and almanacs.

See the tab titled Cycle of Information for a more detailed description of the differences between these resources.

Search@UW  

Try our new discovery tool where you can find books in the UWSP collection, full text articles from scholarly journals and magazines, online videos, as well as photographs, documents and maps from the UW digitial collections. 

Then, with one click, go beyond our holdings at UWSP and order books from other UW libraries and search for articles beyond our subscriptions. Search@UW is multidisciplinary, so it's a great starting point for research across all majors.  It can be a real time saver, since it combines what have historically been separate search venues in a single site, making your search experience faster and easier.

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Pharmacy - Research Resources

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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Literature

Primary literature, secondary literature, tertiary literature.

  • Evaluating Sources for Pharmacy

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  • Text only document for primary, secondary, tertiary sources

Graphic adapted from UC San Diego:  http://ucsd.libguides.com/MCWP/sources

Primary Literature in the Sciences

In the sciences, the primary literature presents the immediate results of research activities.  It often includes analysis of data collected in the field or laboratory.  Primary literature presents original research and/or new scientific discoveries.  

Examples of Primary Literature in the Sciences:

  • Original research published as articles in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Dissertations
  • Technical reports
  • Conference proceedings

Identifying Primary Literature in the Sciences

When looking at a journal article to determine whether or not is it primary literature, look for the following common components of a primary research article:

  • Introduction
  • Methods or Materials and Methods 
  • Conclusions

Secondary Literature in the Sciences

The secondary literature in the sciences summarizes and synthesizes the primary literature.  It is usually broader and less current than primary literature.  Since most information sources in the secondary literature contain extensive bibliographies, they can be useful for finding more information on a topic.  

Examples of Secondary Literature in the Sciences: 

  • Literature review articles

Tertiary Literature in the Sciences

Tertiary literature presents summaries or condensed versions of materials usually with references to primary or secondary sources.  They can be a good place to look up facts or get a general overview of a subject.  

Examples of Tertiary Literature in the Sciences:

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
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2.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

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Another information category is called publication mode and has to do with whether the information is:

  • Firsthand information (information in its original form, not translated or published in another form).
  • Secondhand information (a restatement, analysis, or interpretation of original information).
  • Thirdhand information (a summary or repackaging of original information, often based on secondary information that has been published).

The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources . Here are examples to illustrate the first- handedness, second-handedness, and third-handedness of information:

When you make distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, you are relating the information itself to the context in which it was created. Understanding that relationship is an important skill that you’ll need in college, as well as in the workplace. Noting the relationship between creation and context helps us understand the “big picture” in which information operates and helps us figure out which information we can depend on. That’s a big part of thinking critically, a major benefit of actually becoming an educated person.

As a reminder, recall one of the frames of the Framework for Information Literacy is Authority is Constructed and Contextual . Information does not occur in a vacuum, but within a context that impacts its meaning. Part of that context will be how you as an information consumer will process the different facets in which that information exists. So, with this in mind, recognize that primary sources as defined below are not cut and dried, nor black or white. For example, to a historian, an image or a representation of a piece of sculpture might be considered a primary source for the purposes of historical analysis; however, to a sculpture or an archaeologist, anything short of the physical piece of sculpture itself would not be considered a primary source. So, in this case, the “context” to consider is how the source of information itself is perceived by a particular discipline (history vs. sculpture or archaeology). More on this below when we consider the “format” of a source.

Primary Sources – Because it is in its original form, the information in primary sources has reached us from its creators without going through any filter. We get it firsthand. Here are some examples that are often used as primary sources:

  • Any literary work, including novels, plays, and poems.
  • Breaking news (first formal documentation of event–remember the Information Cycle).
  • Advertisements.
  • Music and dance performances.
  • Eyewitness accounts, including photographs and recorded interviews.
  • Blog entries that are autobiographical.
  • Scholarly blogs that provide data or are highly theoretical, even though they contain no autobiography.
  • Artifacts such as tools, clothing, or other objects.
  • Original documents such as tax returns, marriage licenses, and transcripts of trials.
  • Websites, although many are secondary.
  • Correspondence, including email.
  • Records of organizations and government agencies.
  • Journal articles that report original research for the first time (at least the parts about the new research, plus their data).

Secondary Source – These sources are sources about the sources, such as analysis or interpretation of the original information, the primary source. Thus, the information comes to us secondhand, or through at least one filter. Here are some examples that are often used as secondary sources:

  • Nonfiction books and magazine articles except autobiography.
  • An article or website that critiques a novel, play, painting, or piece of music.
  • An article or web site that synthesizes expert opinion and several eyewitness accounts for a new understanding of an event.
  • The literature review portion of a scholarly journal article.

Tertiary Source – These sources further repackage the original information because they index, condense, or summarize the original.

Typically, by the time tertiary sources are developed, there have been many secondary sources prepared on their subjects, and you can think of tertiary sources as information that comes to us “third-hand,” that is, pre -processed. Tertiary sources are usually publications that you are not intended to read from cover to cover but to dip in and out of for the information you need. You can think of them as a good place for background information to start your research but a bad place to end up. Here are some examples that are often used as tertiary sources, which are also considered “reference sources” in the library world:

  • Dictionaries.
  • Guide books, like the MLA Handbook
  • Survey articles.
  • Bibliographies.
  • Encyclopedias, including Wikipedia.
  • Most textbooks, including the one you are now reading.

Tertiary sources are usually not acceptable as cited sources in college research projects because they are so far removed from firsthand information. That’s why most professors don’t want you to use Wikipedia as a citable source: the information in Wikipedia is far from original information. Other people have considered it, decided what they think about it, rearranged it, and summarized it–all of which is actually what your professors want you , not another author, to do with information in your research projects.

The Details Are Tricky — A few things about primary or secondary sources might surprise you:

  • Sources have the potential of becoming primary rather than always exist as primary sources.

It’s easy to think that it is the format of primary sources that makes them primary. But that’s not all that matters. When you see lists like the one above of sources that are often used as primary sources, it’s wise to remember that the ones listed are not automatically already primary sources. Firsthand sources get that designation only when researchers actually find their information relevant and use it.

For instance: Here is an illustration of the frame, Authority is Constructed and Contextual. Records that could be relevant to those studying government are created every day by federal, state, county, and city governments as they operate. But until the raw data are actually used by a researcher, they cannot be considered primary sources. How this data is used is what gives these sources the designation, and authority, as primary sources.

Another example that references the frame, Authority is Constructed and Contextual : A diary about his flying missions kept by an American helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War is not a primary source until, say, a researcher uses it in her study of how the war was carried out. But it will never be a primary source for a researcher studying the U.S. public’s reaction to the war because it does not contain information relevant to that study.

  • Primary sources, even eyewitness accounts, are not necessarily accurate. Their accuracy has to be evaluated, just like that of all sources.
  • Something that is usually considered a secondary source can be considered a primary source, depending on the research project and the context in which something is used .

Here is another example where the context of the use of the source dictates whether or not the source is primary or secondary. For instance, movie reviews are usually considered secondary sources. But if your research project is about the effect movie reviews have on ticket sales, the movie reviews you study would become primary sources.

  • Deciding whether to consider a journal article a primary or a secondary source can be complicated for at least two reasons.

First, scholarly journal articles that report new research for the first time are usually based on data. So some disciplines consider the data to be the primary source, and the journal article that describes and analyzes them is considered a secondary source.

However, particularly in the sciences, the original researcher might find it difficult or impossible (he or she might not be allowed) to share the data. So sometimes you have nothing more firsthand than the journal article, which argues for calling it the relevant primary source because it’s the closest thing that exists to the data.

Second, even scholarly journal articles that announce new research for the first time usually contain more than data. They also typically contain secondary source elements, such as a literature review, bibliography, and sections on data analysis and interpretation. So they can actually be a mix of primary and secondary elements. Even so, in some disciplines, a journal article that announces new research findings for the first time is considered to be, as a whole, a primary source for the researchers using it.

ACTIVITY: Under What Circumstances?

Instructions: Look at each of the sources listed below and think of circumstances under which each could become a primary source. (There are probably many potential circumstances for each.) So just imagine you are a researcher with projects that would make each item firsthand information that is relevant to your work. What kind of project would make each of the following sources relevant firsthand information? Our answers are at the bottom of the page, but remember that there are many more–including the ones you think of that we didn’t!

  • Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s.
  • Poet W.H. Auden’s elegy for Y.S. Yeats.
  • An arrowhead made by (Florida) Seminole Native Americans but found at Flint Ridge outside Columbus, Ohio.
  • E-mail between the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and her staff about North Korea.
  • A marriage license.

Despite their fluidity, what primary sources usually offer is too good not to consider using because:

  • They are original. This unfiltered, firsthand information is not available anywhere else.
  • Their creator was a type of person unlike others in your research project, and you want to include that perspective.
  • Their creator was present at an event and shares an eyewitness account.
  • They are objects that existed at the particular time of the project you are studying.

Particularly in humanities courses, your professor may require you to use a certain number of primary sources for your project. In other courses, particularly in the sciences, you may be required to use only primary sources.

What is considered primary and secondary sources can vary from discipline to discipline. If you are required to use primary sources for your research project, before getting too deep into your project, check with your professor to make sure he or she agrees with your choices. After all, it’s your professor who will be grading your project. A librarian, too, can verify your choices. Just remember to take a copy of your assignment with you when you ask, because the librarian will want to see the original assignment. After all, that’s a primary source!

POSSIBLE AnswerS TO ACTIVITY: Under What Circumstances?

  • You are doing a study of the entrances Wright designed for homes, which were smaller than other architects of the time typically designed entrances.
  • Your research project is about the Auden-Yeats relationship.
  • Your research project is about trade among 19th century Native Americans east of the Mississippi River.
  • Your research project is on how Ambassador Haley conveyed a decision about North Korea to her staff.
  • You are writing about the life of a person who claimed to have married several times, and you need more than her statements about when those marriages took place and to whom.

Module 6: Research

Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

When searching for information on a topic, it is important to understand the value of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events, and empirical research as possible. Such sources may include creative works, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, and the publication of the results of empirical observations or research.

Secondary sources analyze, review, or summarize information in primary resources or other secondary resources. Even sources presenting facts or descriptions about events are secondary unless they are based on direct participation or observation. Moreover, secondary sources often rely on other secondary sources and standard disciplinary methods to reach results, and they provide the principle sources of analysis about primary sources.

Tertiary sources provide overviews of topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources often provide data in a convenient form or provide information with context by which to interpret it.

The distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources can be ambiguous. An individual document may be a primary source in one context and a secondary source in another. Encyclopedias are typically considered tertiary sources, but a study of how encyclopedias have changed on the Internet would use them as primary sources. Time is a defining element.

While these definitions are clear, the lines begin to blur in the different discipline areas.

In the Humanities & Social Sciences

In the humanities and social sciences, primary sources are the direct evidence or first-hand accounts of events without secondary analysis or interpretation. A primary source is a work that was created or written contemporary with the period or subject being studied. Secondary sources analyze or interpret historical events or creative works.

Primary sources

  • Original works of art
  • Photographs
  • Works of literature

A primary source is an original document containing firsthand information about a topic. Different fields of study may use different types of primary sources.

Secondary sources

  • Biographies
  • Dissertations
  • Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies (used to locate a secondary source)
  • Journal articles

A secondary source contains commentary on or discussion about a primary source. The most important feature of secondary sources is that they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources.

Tertiary sources

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias

A tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources. They can be a good place to look up facts or get a general overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.

In the Sciences

In the sciences, primary sources are documents that provide full description of the original research. For example, a primary source would be a journal article where scientists describe their research on the genetics of tobacco plants. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists’ research on tobacco.

  • Conference proceedings
  • Lab notebooks
  • Technical reports
  • Theses and dissertations

These are where the results of original research are usually first published in the sciences. This makes them the best source of information on cutting edge topics. However the new ideas presented may not be fully refined or validated yet.

These tend to summarize the existing state of knowledge in a field at the time of publication. Secondary sources are good to find comparisons of different ideas and theories and to see how they may have changed over time.

  • Compilations

These types of sources present condensed material, generally with references back to the primary and/or secondary literature. They can be a good place to look up data or to get an overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.

  • Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources. Provided by : Virginia Tech University Libraries. Located at : http://www.lib.vt.edu/help/research/primary-secondary-tertiary.html . Project : Introduction to Academic Research. License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Telling the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources seems easy.

A Primary Sourc e offers first-hand evidence on the subject you’re investigating. Written or created by an eyewitness or participant, it presents an insider’s perspective. For example:

  • Diaries, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches
  • Journal articles reporting original/new research or findings
  • Artistic/literary creations (e.g. novels, plays, poems, works of art, etc.)
  • Legal documents (e.g. birth certificate, wills, the Constitution, etc.)
  • Physical artifacts (e.g. jewelry, pottery, clothing, etc.)

A Secondary Source is NOT the original source. Written or created after the subject you’re investigating, it offers interpretations, analyses, or criticisms of primary sources. For example:

  • Journal articles that review an existing body of scientific literature, rather than describe new research
  • Biographies
  • Historical studies
  • Reviews (e.g. movie, music, play, art, etc.)

A  Tertiary Source  synthesizes information from other sources–primary and secondary–and presents it with relevant context. For example:

  • Reference materials (e.g. encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc.)

But contrary to popular belief, it’s not the form (e.g. autobiography, legal document, biography, movie review, encyclopedia entry) that determines if something is a primary, secondary, or tertiary. It’s about context.

  • First, it’s the original context of creation: How closely is the source connected to it? See above.
  • Second, it’s the context of need: What are you trying to do? Sources normally considered to be in one category may sometimes be used as another. If you’re researching how a movie was critically received upon release, reviews (traditionally considered secondary sources) provide the primary evidence you need.
  • Third, it’s the context of the discipline: What are its standards? They may differ from discipline to discipline. In history, because of need, anything could potentially serve as a primary source. In biology, a primary source may be the article that describes the results of original research. Find out which standard your discipline uses.

Each type adds something different to your work, leading to a richer understanding of your subject. So, what should you choose? That depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you want first-hand evidence, free from second-hand commentary that might distort the information, primary sources can’t be beat. They allow you to read/hear/see what was being said/done in the original context. This is helpful in most types of academic scholarship, when you need to rely upon the results of original research. But a single primary source lacks perspective; its significance can only be understood in relation to other sources on the same subject. Looking at multiple primary accounts and searching for commonalities is how historians “do history.” The more independent accounts that agree, the more likely it represents what actually happened. Corroboration is also the purpose of a literature review, the survey of existing research on a subject that is part of most research articles. It helps readers understand how a single study fits into the bigger picture.

If you want to provide more context for your projects, a collection of secondary sources may be your best bet. Interpretation, analysis, or critique illustrates how the limited perspective of a singular, primary source connects to other sources on the same subject. They’re easy to produce, which means there is no shortage of secondary sources. You’ll be able to find them for most of the subjects you investigate, but be careful. Anyone can offer his or her interpretation. Original information can be easily “taken out of context,” distorted, and/or misrepresented.  You should evaluate these sources for authority, accuracy, and bias. Like primary sources, you should also compare and corroborate any claims made. This is where an authoritative tertiary source could be helpful. These sources have already collected the research and provided context.

IMAGES

  1. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Literature in the Sciences

    differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

  2. Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

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  3. differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

    differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

  4. Getting Started

    differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

  5. what are the different components of a literature review

    differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

  6. Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources Guide

    differentiate between secondary and tertiary sources of literature review

VIDEO

  1. What is Literature??

  2. S3.2 Identification of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Amines and Amides [SL IB CHEMISTRY]

  3. Types of literature review

  4. Primary versus Secondary versus Tertiary Sources

  5. Reliability / Kinds of Sources

  6. Distinguish between secondary and tertiary amines

COMMENTS

  1. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

    A secondary source is a document or work where its author had an indirect part in a study or creation; an author is usually writing about or reporting the work or research done by someone else. Secondary sources can be used for additional or supporting information; they are not the direct product of research or the making of a creative work.

  2. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    What are the differences? Sources of information or evidence are often categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary material. These classifications are based on the originality of the material and the proximity of the source or origin.

  3. Types of Sources: Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary

    Primary Sources "At a Glance" Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources Use the charts to help you understand the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Please consult your professor or a librarian if you are unsure about identifying a particular source.

  4. Tertiary Sources Explained

    A tertiary source, also called a reference work, is a source that gives an overview of information gathered from primary and secondary sources but does not provide original interpretations or analysis. Examples include: Dictionaries Encyclopedias Databases Bibliographies These sources types compile information from a wide variety of sources.

  5. Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

    What's the difference? Telling the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources can often be confusing because the difference is more about the content of the source than the published format. The format may be a first indicator of whether or not a source is primary, but evaluating the content will be the ultimate judgement call.

  6. GSU Library Research Guides: Literature Reviews: Types of Literature

    Tertiary Literature. Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

  7. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

    What is a primary source? A primary source is anything that gives you direct evidence about the people, events, or phenomena that you are researching. Primary sources will usually be the main objects of your analysis.

  8. Chapter 2: What is a Literature Review?

    Once you have that essential overview, you delve into the seminal literature of the field. As a result, while your literature review may consist of research articles tightly focused on your topic with secondary and tertiary sources used more sparingly, all three types of information (primary, secondary, tertiary) are critical to your research.

  9. Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources

    The most common example is an encyclopedia. Consider a particular revolution as an historical event. All the documents from the time become primary sources. All the historians writing later produce secondary sources. Then someone reads those secondary sources and summarizes them in an encyclopedia article, which becomes a tertiary source.

  10. UB LibGuides: Conducting a Literature Review: Types of Literature

    Tertiary Literature. Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.

  11. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    A source of information can be primary, secondary, or tertiary depending on when it was created, its purpose and scope, and (sometimes) what discipline is using it. It is essential to understand the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of information so that you know when to use each type in your research.

  12. 10.1 Types of Sources: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

    What is a Primary Source? Primary sources are texts that arise directly from a particular event or time period. They may be letters, speeches, works of art, works of literature, diaries, direct personal observations, newspaper articles that offer direct observations of current events, survey responses, tweets, other social media posts, original scholarly research (meaning research that the ...

  13. 2.5: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

    When you make distinctions between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, you are relating the information itself to the context in which it was created. ... The literature review portion of a journal article. Tertiary Source - These sources further repackage the original information because they index, condense, or summarize the original.

  14. Primary and secondary sources

    On this page Primary and secondary sources Primary vs secondary sources: The differences explained Can something be both a primary and secondary source? Primary and secondary sources Research for your literature review can be categorised as either primary or secondary in nature.

  15. Peer-Reviewed Literature: Peer-Reviewed Research: Primary vs. Secondary

    Identifying Peer-Reviewed Research Peer Reviewed Research Published literature can be either peer-reviewed or non-peer-reviewed. Official research reports are almost always peer reviewed while a journal's other content is usually not. In the health sciences, official research can be primary, secondary, or even tertiary.

  16. Source Types

    Secondary sources are works that analyze, assess or interpret a historical event, era or phenomenon. They may use primary sources to to write a review, critique or interpretation often well after the event. Secondary sources may include. journal articles, editorial articles, literacy criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks

  17. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    Tertiary Sources. Materials categorized as tertiary in nature will include indexes and abstracts, databases, encyclopedias, handbooks, and other similar sources. In most cases, tertiary sources help identify primary and secondary sources for the researcher. In the case of indexes and abstracts, these types of tools are designed specifically to ...

  18. How to Identify Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: Home

    These sources describe or analyze the primary source. Examples of secondary sources include dictionaries, encyclopedias, textbooks, and books and articles that interpret or review research works. Tertiary Resources. These sources list, compile, digest, or index primary or secondary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include indexes ...

  19. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Literature in the Sciences

    The secondary literature in the sciences summarizes and synthesizes the primary literature. It is usually broader and less current than primary literature. Since most information sources in the secondary literature contain extensive bibliographies, they can be useful for finding more information on a topic.

  20. 2.4: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

    The three labels for information sources in this category are, respectively, primary sources, secondary sources, and tertiary sources. Here are examples to illustrate the first- handedness, second-handedness, and third-handedness of information: J.D. Salinger's novel Catcher in the Rye.

  21. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    Journal articles Monographs A secondary source contains commentary on or discussion about a primary source. The most important feature of secondary sources is that they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources. Tertiary sources Dictionaries Encyclopedias

  22. Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

    Class Guides For Faculty Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources Telling the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources seems easy. A Primary Sourc e offers first-hand evidence on the subject you're investigating. Written or created by an eyewitness or participant, it presents an insider's perspective. For example:

  23. What's a Primary Source? or a Literature Search?

    Tertiary Literature/Source Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.