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Research Process: A Step-By-Step Guide: 3b. Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A guide to help you through the steps of the research process. This guide is modeled after a guide created by the librarians at Johnson & Wales University.

Source Types

When evaluating information, it is useful to identify if it's a Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary source. By doing so, you will be able 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 first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event. The 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
  • Original artwork
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights

Secondary
One step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information conveyed in the primary source.

  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

Tertiary
Further removed from a primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

  • Bibliography
  • Index to articles
  • Library catalog

Primary vs Secondary Sources

Video from Imagine Easy Solutions.