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Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources for History Research Guide

Research Resources explained for students in History classes.
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Primary Sources

primary source is a document containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. Primary sources are usually created by individuals who experienced the event and recorded or wrote about it.

Primary Sources

Direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art.

Primary sources may include:

  • legal documents
  • eyewitness accounts
  • letters
  • diaries
  • speeches
  • photographs
  • statutes
  • newspaper articles
  • political cartoons
  • and sermons.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources.

Secondary source materials may include:

  • books or movie reviews
  • articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources contain information that has been compiled from primary and secondary sources. Tertiary sources include almanacs, chronologies, dictionaries and encyclopedias, directories, guidebooks, indexes, abstracts, manuals, and textbooks.

Tertiary source materials may include:

  • almanacs
  • chronologies
  • dictionaries
  • encyclopedias
  • directories
  • guidebooks
  • indexes
  • abstracts
  • manuals
  • textbooks

Developed via: https://library.ithaca.edu/sp/subjects/primary (opens in new window)

Secondary Sources

secondary source is one that was created later by someone that did not experience firsthand or participate in the events in which the author is writing about. Secondary sources often summarize, interpret, analyze, or comment on information found in primary sources.

The video below helps to explain the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Imagine Easy Solutions. (2014, June 2). Understanding Primary & Secondary Sources. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/pmno-Yfetd8