May 12th, 2009

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources: Do You Know the Difference?

scholarlyMany times when working on a paper or some other project, your instructor asks you to use only primary resources.

What do they mean?

Primary resources are published research studies. They include the following sections: A research question, brief literature review, description of the study’s methodology, a discussion of results and any conclusions. If an article does not have these elements in some way, shape, or form, it is probably either a secondary or tertiary resource.

How do you tell the difference?

Secondary resources evaluate either one or perhaps a group of primary resources. They do not conduct a research study but comment on studies that others have done. They are often called a synthesis or an analysis or literature review of a particular subject. They can be are great resources for finding primary resources on a subject.

Tertiary resources provide background or overview information on a topic. They are resources such as subject-specific encyclopedias, handbooks or dictionaries. Do these resources sound too ” non-academic” for your purposes? Well don’t discount them so quickly. Many times they will remind you of aspects of your topic you may have forgotten. Also, they can give you different ideas for talking about and describing your topic that may be helpful when you start searching the library databases.

Not sure what you have in your hands? Feel free to Ask-a- Librarian

Robin

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