For your research assignments, professors may request that you use different types of sources, including primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.
Primary sources are the raw materials of research. They provide firsthand access to words, images, or objects created directly by the persons involved in the activity or event. The value of primary sources is that they allow the researcher to get as close as possible to the original work. It is important to note that the types of information that can be considered primary sources may vary depending on the subject discipline, and also on how you are using the material. Time is also a defining element.
Primary Source Examples: works of art and architecture, letters, diaries, interviews, original documents, anything produced during that time period; Artstor is one specific example of a image database that includes primary sources.
Secondary sources discuss, report on, or provide commentary about primary sources. They are important to researchers as they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources.
Secondary Source Examples: journal, magazine & newspaper articles, biographies, monographs; Mirror affect: seeing self, observing others in contemporary art is one example of a secondary source.
Tertiary sources present summaries, condense, or collect information from primary and/or secondary sources. They can be a good place to look up facts, get a general overview of a subject, or locate primary and secondary sources.
Tertiary Source Examples: encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, handbooks, timelines, bibliographies; Oxford Art Online is one specific example of a tertiary source.
Scholarly sources present sophisticated, researched arguments using both primary and secondary sources and are written by experts. Journals are examples of scholarly sources.
Popular sources aim to inform or entertain and are intended for a general, non-specialized audience. In academic writing, popular sources most often are analyzed as primary sources. Magazines are examples of popular sources.
To determine the difference between these two types of sources, ask yourself: