For your research assignments, professors may request that you use different types of sources, including primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.
Primary sources are the raw materials of research. They provide firsthand access to words, images, or objects created directly by the persons involved in the activity or event. The value of primary sources is that they allow the researcher to get as close as possible to the original work. It is important to note that the types of information that can be considered primary sources may vary depending on the subject discipline, and also on how you are using the material.
Primary Source Examples: memoirs, interviews, original documents, artifacts, or other sources created by the persons involved in the activity or event
Secondary sources discuss, report on, or provide commentary about primary sources. They are important to researchers as they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources.
Secondary Source Examples: journal, magazine & newspaper articles; biographies; monographs
Note: Primary and secondary are relative terms, and some sources may be classified as primary or secondary, depending on how it is used. For example, a movie review is generally considered a secondary source. However, if you are writing about the reception of a movie, a movie review is considered a primary source.
Tertiary sources present summaries, condense, or collect information from primary and/or secondary sources. They can be a good place to look up facts, get a general overview of a subject, or locate primary and secondary sources.
Tertiary Source Examples: encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, handbooks, timelines, bibliographies
Scholarly sources present sophisticated, researched arguments using both primary and secondary sources and are written by experts. Journals are examples of scholarly sources. Books published by academic presses are also examples of scholarly sources.
Popular sources aim to inform or entertain and are intended for a general, non-specialized audience. In academic writing, popular sources most often are analyzed as primary sources. Magazines and books by commercial publishers are examples of popular sources.
Here are some general guidelines to identify scholarly articles.
To determine the difference between these two types of sources, ask yourself: