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1.10.2: Information Sources- Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

  • Page ID
    241947
    • Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith
    • Pasadena City College, Cabrillo College, and West Hills Community College
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    Information Creation & Context

    We can group information sources into three basic categories: primary, secondary, and tertiary. When we make distinctions between these three categories of sources, we are relating the information itself to the context in which it was created. Noting this relationship between creation and context helps us understand the big picture in which information operates, and prompts us to consider whose voices we are including in our research, and whose voices may be left out.

    Primary Sources

    Primary sources are first-hand observations or experiences of an event. They can also be the original sources of information before they have been analyzed, such as statistical data sets. Examples of primary sources include:

    • Eyewitness reports (interviews, photographs)
    • Speeches, diaries, memoirs
    • Empirical research
    • Original documents, historical newspaper articles
    • Literary works (novels, plays, poems), artworks
    • Tweets
    Eyewitness photograph: Protesters speak on the steps of San Francisco City Hall for a “Families Belong Together” rally.

    Secondary Sources

    Secondary sources are created after an event occurred and offer a review or an analysis of the event; they provide an interpretation of the primary source or data without offering new data. Examples of secondary sources would be:

    • Biographies, nonfiction books
    • Editorials
    • Literary criticism and reviews
    • Periodicals (such as scholarly journals, magazines, or newspapers)
    • Retweets
    a book, description provided below
    Nonfiction book titled "World of Walls: The Structure, Roles and Effectivness of Separation Barriers". This book analyzes the consequences of the construction of physical and virtual walls.

    Tertiary Sources

    Tertiary sources are compilations of information coming from secondary and primary sources; these can be lists or collections, and are generally reference material that can help you find, or direct you to, secondary and primary sources. Examples of tertiary sources include:

    • Encyclopedias, dictionaries
    • Indexes
    • Databases, catalogs
    • Most textbooks
    Wikipedia entry for "Family immigration detention in the United States:
    Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, is an example of a reference source (tertiary)

    Note: These categories may differ between subject areas.



    This page titled 1.10.2: Information Sources- Primary, Secondary, Tertiary is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.