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Start Your Research

Just starting your research? Review the basics here.

Source Types

What are the differences between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources?

Types of Sources Definition Characteristics Examples
Primary Original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched. First-hand observations, contemporary accounts of the event. Viewpoint of the time. Interviews, news footage, data sets, original research, speeches, diaries, letters, creative works, photographs
Secondary Works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon. Generally uses primary sources. Interpretation of information, usually written well after an event. Offers reviews or critiques. Research studies, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks
Tertiary Sources that identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources. Reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources. Encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, manuals, textbooks, fact books

Chart created by Loyola Marymount University Library

Primary vs. Secondary

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Databases for Historical Primary Sources

Websites for Primary Sources

Primary Sources at MSMU