In academic research, it's important to be able to distinguish between different types of sources. These differences often are contextual, meaning that a single source might fit in different categories depending on how you are using it and in what academic discipline you are writing.
Primary sources are the raw materials of scholarship.
Secondary sources report on or interpret primary sources.
Tertiary sources synthesize and present overviews of primary and secondary sources.
Scholarly sources present sophisticated, researched arguments using both primary and secondary sources and are written by experts.
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.
Tertiary sources are excellent starting points! They consist of information synthesized from primary and secondary sources. Examples include:
These resources give you succinct overviews of your topic, explain scholarly arguments, point out interesting questions, and refer you to especially key sources.
Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information. Scholars analyze primary sources in order to answer research questions. Examples of primary sources vary by discipline.
Examples in the humanities:
Examples in the social sciences:
Example in the sciences: