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Source Types

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a  Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able recognize if the author is reporting on his/her own first hand experiences, or relying on the views of others.

Primary

A first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. The original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else. These include the following:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Diaries and journals
  • Autobiographies and Memoirs
  • Government Documents
  • Photographs, paintings, movies, documentaries, audio recordings
  • Music
  • Physical objects: buildings, clothing, furniture, tools, toys, icons
  • Archival Material and Manuscripts
  • Business Archives Internal records of organizations, memos, committee reports, minutes, and correspondence
  • Surveys, Polls and Statistics 
  • First person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Letters between two people

Secondary

One step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information conveyed in the primary source.  These include the following:

  • Books
  • Journal
  • Magazine Articles
  • Printed and online magazines
  • Newspaper articles
  • Pre-prints/ Conference Papers
  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

Tertiary

Further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.  These include the following:

  • General encyclopedias
  • Subject-specific encyclopedias
  • Almanacs
  • Biographical Information
  • Books
  • Monographs
  • Subject Dictionaries
  • Handbooks
  • Chronologies

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Posted with permission from the Univ. of California San Diego Libraries.

Tip!

Search the Library's Find Anything Search Box to find primary source material for your topic. Try adding one of the keywords below:

  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • documents
  • interviews
  • letters
  • manuscripts
  • oratory
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • sources
  • speeches