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Management 1000: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Which source is the one you need?

(Source ucsd.edu)

Here are some examples of source types listed by search area:

SUBJECT PRIMARY SECONDARY TERTIARY
Art and Architecture Painting by artist Article critiquing the painting Encyclopedia article on artist
Sciences Einstein's diary Monograph on Einstein's life Dictionary on Theory of Relativity
Engineering Patent NTIS database Manual on using invention
Health/Nursing Peer reviewed journal article reporting clinical test results of a new drug therapy for Type 2 diabetes. Article in a news or health magazine/journal that reports on the original article/study results. General book about the treatment of diabetes.
Humanities Letters by Martin Luther King Articles about Dr. King's writings from full text database. Encyclopedia on Civil Rights Movement

Social Sciences

Notes taken by clinical psychologist Journal article about the psychological condition Textbook on clinical psychology
Performing Arts Movie filmed in 1942 Biography of the director Guide to the movie

 

 

Primary Sources

Primary Sources

Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events and empirical studies as possible. Such sources may include first hand or contemporary accounts of events, publication of the results of empirical observations or studies,  creative works such as a novel or painting, and other items that may form the basis of further research. Primary sources were created in the time period under study.

Examples include:

  • Novels, plays, poems, works of art, popular culture, other artifacts (plants, fossils, coins, anything under direct study)
  • Diaries, narratives, autobiographies, memoirs, speeches, interviews, audio or video recordings
  • Data sets, technical reports, experimental research results, journal articles* that present experimental data directly
  • Government documents, patents
  • Newspaper articles written at the time (these can also be secondary);
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript);
  • Web sites and social media posts might be primary sources, it depends

Note: Context often determines whether a source is primary, secondary or tertiary. Sources that are normally considered to fit into one category may sometimes be used as another. For example, news magazines are normally seen as secondary sources, but a study of how a certain news story was covered by the media would probably consider them as primary sources. Each discipline has its own set of standards for what counts as a primary source; when in doubt, ask your instructor or a librarian.

Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are the ones that analyze, review or restate information found 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. Secondary sources often rely on other secondary sources and methods to reach results. Since primary sources are often direct reporting, secondary sources are the principle sources of analysis about the primary sources. Indeed, secondary sources written by experts may be far more informative and useful to you than a primary source when trying to interpret research data or understanding a complex topic.

Examples include:

  • Scholarly/Journal articles*
  • Magazine and newspaper articles*
  • Monographs (Books), other than fiction and autobiography;
  • Textbooks (also considered tertiary);
  • Biographies
  • Review articles and literature reviews (articles that compile a list of articles on a topic)
  • Web site or other Internet resources (may also be considered primary or tertiary).

*Today most research utilizing peer reviewed/scholarly journals, and popular magazine/newspaper articles is carried out in online databases such as those available to you with your library card number via the Clark State Library and Ohiolink.  In most cases the journal still publishes a paper version as well, but the articles that appear in a database such as the Academic Search Complete are considered to be the same as those in the print publication. Some scholarly journals no longer have a print edition at all--a trend that will increase.  You should be aware that journal/magazine articles located via a database search are not "Internet resources" in the same way that a web page, wikipedia article, or anything else you find via Google or Bing etc. are and they can be cited even if you are told not to use Internet resources.

 
 
 

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary resources provide overviews of topics by offering a more concise version of information gathered from other (usually secondary) resources. The primary and secondary sources referenced by a tertiary source are not always fully credited. Tertiary resources often provide data in more convenient form and can provide context helpful in interpreting information in primary and secondary sources. 

Examples include:

  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Chronologies
  • Almanacs
  • Textbooks (in some instances)
  • Bibliographies (also considered secondary);
  • Directories, Fact books, and Guidebooks;
  • Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies used to locate primary and secondary sources;
  • Internet Resources when used with caution.  Note: the Internet can also be a source of Primary and Secondary sources, it all depends on what you are looking for and how you will use them.

(Modified from UPenn.edu)

A note about process, the word tertiary makes those resources sound less significant, however, tertiary resources can be the right place to begin your research project.