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Types of Sources

Types of Sources

Author: Mackenzie W
Differentiate between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources
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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm MacKenzie, and today we're learning about types of sources. Have you ever stopped to think about the different types of information we have available to us? In this tutorial, we'll learn about sources as evidence, we'll discuss primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and we'll look at examples of different types of sources.

In essay writing, we usually have claims we are trying to support, and we do so using sources and evidence. We find sources and evidence through researching our writing topic, and we incorporate sources through analysis, quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing the information we find from relevant sources. Sources help to prove that the ideas we write aren't just our opinions, but they are actually valid ideas supported by proof, which enhances our credibility in the eyes of the audience.

Using outside sources in our writing also helps us to add to the conversation about the topic of the writing. When researching to find sources to include in an essay, you will likely find more information and sources than you'll be able to incorporate into your essay. Choose the sources that are the most relevant to your thesis, will appeal the most to your audience, and will be the best to establish your credibility on the topic.

We'll begin by discussing the definition of a type of source called a primary source. When I say primary source, I'm talking about sources such as documents and objects that are as close to the topic as possible. For example, writers may conduct their own original research to provide a primary source on a subject. Some examples of primary sources include literary texts, which could be novels, poems, short stories, and creative nonfiction, artwork, such as films, TV shows, songs, other music, paintings, and other types of art and media, historical artifacts, such as photographs, news articles, law records, census data, and other physical objects, firsthand accounts of an event, which could be written or recorded, personal communication, such as letters, diaries, interviews, and speeches, and scientific sources, such as lab reports, published research studies, and conference presentations, patents, mathematical proofs, and technical documents. Primary sources are some of the most credible and noteworthy types of sources a writer can include in an essay.

Another type of source is called a secondary source. A secondary source is a piece of original research or writing related to a primary source. Secondary sources often follow specific conventions or standards regarding the way that they are written or presented, related to the field of study they came from. And secondary sources can include academic journal articles and books, articles, and opinion pieces, biographies, textbooks, and treatises. Writers may use secondary sources in their writing to find out what experts are saying about the topic, to show their involvement with the conversation of the topic, to support their ideas through evidence, and sometimes to show disagreement between their ideas and the ideas of others related to the topic.

Yet another type of source is called a tertiary source, which is a source that compiles or combines data, research, or other information about a topic. Tertiary sources can include dictionaries and encyclopedias, whether they be printed or online. Although do note that online sources such as Wikipedia may not be acceptable to use for all assignments or all types of writing.

Other tertiary sources might include literature reviews that summarize a collection of secondary sources all on the same topic, handbooks, and tables of data. Tertiary sources are useful because they often provide a broad overview of a topic and are sometimes a quick reference for facts, but they are sometimes seen as less valuable or less interesting than primary or secondary sources because they are further removed from the original ideas being discussed.

Here are some examples of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Our first examples come from the field of political science. A primary source might be the inauguration speech delivered by Bill Clinton. This is a primary source because the speech is the thing being researched.

A secondary source then could be an article that presents a rhetorical analysis of the speech. And a tertiary source could be an encyclopedia entry about American presidents, which is tertiary because it's rather far removed from the speech itself, which is the primary artifact being used as evidence.

Next, we have some examples from the field of art and architecture. A primary source might be a hotel designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The hotel is the artifact or thing being researched. A secondary source could be a magazine article that describes the restoration of the hotel, and the source is secondary because it adds to the conversation about the hotel, which is the primary source. And a tertiary source could be a coffee table book about famous hotels that includes a snippet about that particular hotel.

Next, we will use the field of sociology as our example. A primary source might be the results of a field experiment, and this is the primary source because the experiment is the thing being discussed. Then, a secondary source could be a peer reviewed journal article written about the results of the experiment. This is a secondary source because it is describing the primary source, which is the experiment itself. And a tertiary source could be a magazine article that cites information published in the journal article. This is a tertiary source because it's somewhat removed from the original primary source.

Our last example comes from the field of chemistry. A primary source might be the laboratory notebook of the famous chemist, Marie Curie. The lab notebook is the primary thing being discussed. Then, as a secondary source, a biography could be written about Marie Curie, and could discuss the lab notebook, making it secondary because it discusses the primary source, the lab notebook. Lastly, a tertiary source could be a textbook entry about radioactivity, which is a major finding first documented in Marie Curie's lab notebook.

These examples helped you show us the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and the ways in which they're connected to one another. In this tutorial, we learned about sources as evidence, we discussed primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and we looked at examples of different types of sources. We're surrounded by information. I'm MacKenzie. Thanks for listening.

Terms to Know
Primary Sources

Documents or objects that are as close to the source topic or event as possible.

Secondary Sources

Expressions of original research related to primary sources.

Tertiary Sources

Compilations or syntheses of research, data, or other information.