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cycle of researching information

 CORI: cycle of researching information

Explore Source Types: Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

Learning Objectives

After completing this module, you will be able to:
 Distinguish between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources

Explore Source Types: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary

Tips for Viewing and Using the Tutorials

How to view the tutorials

Click each item's “Access” button to open and view it in a new window. If you are off-campus, you will be taken to the CCAC login page to sign in.

Access tutorial button

How to navigate the tutorials

Tutorials will have navigation links across the top that you will use to advance through the pages. They will look similar to this:

After completing the tutorial, close the browser tab or window to return back to this page.

Access Video Tutorial: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources

Primary vs Secondary vs Tertiary Sources

Primary Sources

  • Records of events or new discoveries
  • No interpretation or commentary
  • Other research may be based on it
  • Original thinking
  • Share fresh information

  • Diaries and letters
  • Academic journal articles reporting NEW data and findings (usually peer reviewed)
  • Speeches
  • Experiments, clinical trials, case studies
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Maps
  • Interviews
  • Survey or poll data
  • Works of art (visual or performance)
  • Works of literature
  • Oral histories
  • Official records from a government, court, or company
  • Eyewitness news reports (only if they are reporting on a recent new event)
  • Objects like clothing, tools, furniture, buildings, etc.

Secondary Sources

  • Offers analysis, criticism, or restatement of primary source information
  • May describe or explain primary source material
  • Works that summarize, interpret, or reorganize

  • Academic journal articles that discuss, analyze, or interpret previous research
  • Editorials and articles that interpret or review primary sources
  • Criticisms or reviews of a work of art, music, or literature
  • Some nonfiction books written for the general public and not scholarship
  • Some textbooks
  • Literature reviews
  • Political commentary
  • Biographies
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that synthesize others' research or primary materials

Tertiary Sources

  • Index, organize, compile, or digest other sources
  • Repackaging the information
  • Usually not credited to a specific author

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Bibliographies
  • Some textbooks
  • Abstracts
  • Bibliographies
  • Indexes
  • Handbooks
  • Wikipedia
  • Fact books
  • Guides
  • Almanacs
  • Library Catalog

Examples of Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources by Discipline

  Primary Secondary Tertiary
English, Foreign Languages, Philosophy, Religion Letters written by Nelson Mandela while in jail during Apartheid in South Africa Book about Mandela's writings from a full-text database Encyclopedia on Apartheid in South Africa
Sciences Marie Currie's diary Book about Marie Currie's life Encyclopedia of Physics

Business, Political Science, History, Sociology, Psychology, Education

Notes taken by a clinical psychologist Journal article about the psychological condition Textbook on clinical psychology
Art Falling Water--Building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Article critiquing the building Encyclopedia article on Frank Lloyd Wright
Allied Health & Nursing Peer reviewed journal article reporting clinical test results of a new drug therapy for hyperthyroidism Article in a news or health magazine/journal that reports on the original article/study results General book about the treatment of hyperthyroidism
Performing Arts Movie filmed in 1951 Biography of the director Guide to the movie
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