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The Research Process: Step-by-Step

This guide walks you through the steps of the research process

Primary vs Secondary Sources

When evaluating the quality of the information you are using, it is useful to identify if you are using 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 primary source is a first person account by someone who experienced or witnessed an event.

 This 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  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights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
 A secondary source is one step removed from the primary original source. The author is reexamining, interpreting and forming conclusions based on the information that is conveyed in the primary source.
  • Newspaper reporting on a scientific study
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Biography

 Tertiary
 A tertiary source is further removed from 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

This short video defines the difference between a primary and secondary source of information in looking at the John F. Kennedy assassination. Primary and secondary sources are used to tell the story.

Posted with permission from the University of California San Diego Libraries. Geisel Productions Web Series Defines primary (versus secondary) sources of information: https://youtu.be/CIWuN52_JY4.