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Research Skills

Information to help students find, write, evaluate and reference information for their assignments.

Primary Sources

Primary sources (also called original sources or direct evidence) are unaltered, first-hand accounts of an event. They are usually created at the time that event took place although they can also be created retrospectively at a later date by a participant in those events. They are original documents from the time period and usually do not describe or interpret other documents. They can also be creative artistic works such as paintings, music or novels.

Examples of primary sources:

  • Birth certificates
  • Clothing
  • Data, statistics
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Legal documents
  • Letters
  • Maps
  • Memoirs
  • Novels or plays
  • Photographs
  • Scientific journal articles reporting new research and results
  • Speeches
  • Works of art

Primary, secondary and tertiary sources

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They provide interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. They are not direct evidence, but rather commentary on, and discussion of evidence. A newspaper article is a primary source if it reports events, but it is a secondary source if it is an opinion piece which analyses and comments on those events. Secondary sources can simplify the process of finding and evaluating the primary literature e.g. a chemistry textbook.

Examples of secondary sources:

  • Biographies
  • Documentaries
  • Literary criticism
  • Review articles 
  • Text books

Tertiary sources

Tertiary sources are two steps removed from the original material. They provide summaries or digests of information from other sources. Tertiary sources are often not credited to a single author. 

Examples of tertiary sources:

  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Literature reviews

Note

It is not always easy to distinguish between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. The type of resource will depend on the context in which it is examined: If you are studying how news is reported on the internet, then the Age website may be a primary source. However, if you are studying an election campaign and you are using an article from the news site examining the campaign, then the website would be a secondary source as the website is one step removed from your topic. 

Box Hill Institute acknowledges that all of our learning sites are situated on the ancestral lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations and pay respects to the traditional custodians and their elders past, present and emerging.
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