Three Types of Sources
There are three types of sources:
1) Primary Sources
- Original materials that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony concerning a topic or event.
- Primary sources can be contemporary sources created at the time when the event occurred (e.g., letters and newspaper articles) or later (e.g., memoirs and oral history interviews).
- Primary sources may be published or unpublished. Unpublished sources are unique materials (e.g., family papers) often referred to as archives and manuscripts.
- What constitutes a primary source varies by discipline. How the researcher uses the source generally determines whether it is a primary source or not.
2) Secondary Sources
- Works that interpret, analyze, and discuss the evidence provided by primary sources (e.g., scholarly books and articles).
- Secondary sources are generally a second-hand account or observation at least one step removed from the event.
- Secondary sources, however, can be considered to be primary sources depending on the context of their use. For example, Ken Burns' documentary of the Civil War is a secondary source for Civil War researchers, but a primary source for those studying documentary filmmaking.
3) Tertiary Sources
- Books or articles that synthesize or distill primary and secondary sources, often in a convenient, easy-to-read form (e.g., dictionaries, encyclopedias, indexes, and textbooks).
This page adapted from a guide authored by David Kupus Owen Library University of Pittsburg: http://pitt.libguides.com/primarysources
|Example . . .||Primary Sources||Secondary Sources|
|The Historian researching World War I might utilize:||
Newspaper articles, weekly/monthly news magazines, diaries, correspondence, and diplomatic records from 1914 to 1919.
|Articles in scholarly journals analyzing the war, possibly footnoting primary documents; books analyzing the war.|
|The Literary Critic researching literature written during World War I might utilize:||Novels, poems, plays, diaries, and correspondence of the time period.||Published articles in scholarly journals providing analysis and criticism of the literature; books analyzing the literature; formal biographies of writiers from the era.|
|The Psychologist researching trench warfare and post-traumatic stress disorder in World War I veterans might utilize:||Original research reports on the topic or research notes taken by a clinical psychologist working with World War I veterans.||Articles in scholarly publications synthesizing results of original research; books analyzing results of original research.|
|The Scientist researching long-term medical effects of chemical warfare on exposed veterans might utilize:||Published articles in scholarly journals reporting on a medical research study and its methodology.||Published articles in scholarly journals analyzing results of an original research study; books doing the same.|