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Prof. Alammar - Eng. 101 FALL 2021: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Primary and Secondary Sources

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


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
  • Novel (fiction) or film
  • Handwritten manuscript
  • Letters between two people
  • A diary
  • Historical documents, e.g. Bill of Rights


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.


  • Journal article reporting on a scientific study
  • Newspaper and Magazine articles
  • Review of a music CD or art show
  • Critique of a work of fiction or film
  • Biography


A tertiary source is further removed from primary source. It leads the researcher to a secondary source, rather than to the primary source.

  • Indexes and Bibliography
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Library catalog
  • Most textbooks
  • Guidebooks

Examples of Tertiary Sources

Magazine Article in Vogue

Fashion Show

Primary, secondary or tertiary source?

Donatella Versace

Primary, secondary or tertiary source?

Photograph in Magazine Article

Primary and Secondary Source Examples

PrimaryEyewitness account of an event - unedited and direct from the source.

Secondary: News article reporting eyewitness testimony. Testimony has been edited or paraphrased by the journalist.


Primary: The film Black Panther.

Secondary: Article in Entertainment Weekly discussing the roles of the actresses in the film.


Primary: Rihanna's speech accepting the NAACP Image Awards' 2020 President's Award. 

SecondaryRolling Stone magazine article reporting on the event with commentary on her speech.


PrimaryCrime Statistics from the Department of Justice database. 

Secondary: N Y Times article using selection of crime statistics from the Department of Justice.

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