Answered By: Emma-Jean Gilmour - Library Support
Last Updated: Nov 22, 2018     Views: 454

Primary information is straight from the horse's mouth. In other words, it is original documents and raw data. It can be in any format, including written, visual, electronic or oral. It remains unchanged, for example autobiographies and diaries.

Use primary sources when you want to make claims or criticisms, as evidence for theories, or to gain timely perspectives on a topic.

Secondary information has been interpreted by somebody other than the originator, for example biographies.  

Use secondary sources to see what others have discussed. They can be a good place to gather background information on a topic. You can also use secondary sources to explore what subtopics have already been explored on a given topic. In order to present a balanced, objective hypothesis it may sometimes be necessary to use a range of sources. 

Tertiary information sources are distillations and collections of  primary and secondary sources. The information is compiled and digested into factual representation, so that it does not obviously reflect points of view, critiques or persuasions. 

Use tertiary sources for a general overview of your topic and for background information for your research.


The attached document has some examples of each.

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