Research Sources: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

What are Primary Sources?
"Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are characterized by their content, regardless of their format." (Primary Sources at Yale)
  • Artifacts (coins, plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing)
  • Audio recordings (radio programs, podcasts)
  • Internet communication on e-mails and listservs
  • Interviews (oral histories, telephone, e-mail)
  • Journal articles in peer-reviewed publications
  • Letters
  • Newspapers written at the time
  • Original documents (birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript)
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings of meetings, conferences, symposia
  • Records of organizations, government agencies (annual report, treaty, constitution, govenment document)
  • Speeches (including transcripts)
  • Survey research (market surveys, public opinion polls)
  • Video recordings (television programs)
  • Works of art, architecture, literature, and music (paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems)
  • Website
Finding Primary Sources:
Teaching With Primary Sources:
  • Library of Congress Teachers: Classroom materials and professional development to help teachers effectively use primary sources.
  • SOAPS Primary Source Think Sheet: Tool for evaluation of primary sources using the SOAPS mnemonic: Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Speaker (see attachment below)
  • Teaching with Document Lesson Plans: From the National Archives
  • Teaching With Primary Sources: Using digital primary source materials from the Library of Congress

What are Secondary Sources?
"...[Secondary sources] are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources." (University of Maryland: "Research Using Primary Sources").
  • Bibliographies
  • Biographical works
  • Commentaries, criticisms
  • Dictionaries, encyclopedias
  • Histories
  • Journal articles (depending on the discipline can be primary)
  • Magazine and newspaper articles (this distinction varies by discipline)
  • Monographs, other than fiction and autobiography
  • Textbooks
  • Website (also considered primary)

What are Tertiary Sources?
"Tertiary sources consist of information which is a distillation of collection of primary and secondary sources." (Yale University: "Comparative Sources: Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Sources").
  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies (also considered secondary)
  • Chronologies
  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias (also considered secondary)
  • Directories
  • Fact books
  • Guidebooks
  • Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies used to locate primary and secondary sources
  • Manuals
  • Textbooks (also considered secondary)

Works Cited
"Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources." University Libraries. University of Maryland, 2014. Web. 8 October 2014.
Primary Sources at Yale. Yale University, 2008. Web. 8 October 2014.
Thanks to Ms. L. Roche for the information on this page.