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Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Find, access and use information effectively: a step-by-step guide

Primary vs Secondary Sources

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

Source Type Examples
Primary
A primary source is an original object or document or a first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. This original document has not been previously published or interpreted by anyone else.
  • First person account of an event
  • First publication of a scientific study
  • Speech or lecture
  • Creative works, e.g. poetry, drama, novels, music, art
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights
  • Relics or artifacts, e.g. pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings
Secondary
A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.
  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Literary criticism analyzing a novel, poem or play
  • Biography
Tertiary
A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.
  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalogue

Primary vs Secondary Sources