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Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources: Sources Home

In this Guide

To support your scholarly research efforts, this LibGuide will help you identify and differentiate between primarysecondary and tertiary sources of information. You will find explanations and examples of each type of source, with helpful links often provided.

Source of Image:  "Rosetta Stone" by Christian Theological SeminaryImage Library of Christian Theological Seminary Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

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Resource Guide: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

This guide explains different research source types (primary, secondary and tertiary) and presents CORE and Internet resources exemplifying each. Often, links to illustrations and examples supportive of learning are provided.

 OPTIONWatch a video summary HERE.

 Source:  The David L. Rice Library
 The University of Southern Indiana

In this guide, topic sections, each with its own tab above, are as follows:

IMPORTANT NOTE: What is considered a primary, secondary or tertiary source can vary, depending on the discipline. Examples and further explanation follow.


To those studying history:

PRIMARY SOURCE: Ben Franklin's letters
SECONDARY SOURCE: A biography of Ben Franklin
TERTIARY SOURCE: A short encyclopedia of America's founding fathers with coverage of Ben Franklin

Franklin wrote in his diary over 200 years ago. It's an original document dating from Franklin's time. It's a PRIMARY source. The biography of Franklin was written two centuries later. It's a SECONDARY source, possibly based in part on primary sources. The short encyclopedia distills any number of primary and secondary sources into a short survey article on Franklin, making it a TERTIARY source.

To those studying art:

PRIMARY SOURCE:  A painting by Renoir
SECONDARY SOURCE:  A book analyzing Renoir's art
TERTIARY SOURCE:  An art encyclopedia containing an article on Renoir

The painting is an original work, done by Renoir in his time, making it a PRIMARY source. Written many years later, the contemporary book commenting on Renoir's art is a SECONDARY source. The art encyclopedia has many articles, One article, which draws from many sources, is about Renoir. This encyclopedia is a TERTIARY source. 


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Thank You Ken Distler and the New York Institute of Technology, who shared his LibGuide on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.