Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

History Resources (UNH Durham)

Three types of resources

In general, there are three types of resources or sources of information: primary, secondary, and tertiary.  It is important to understand these types and to know what type is appropriate for your coursework prior to searching for information.

  1. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based, including:
    • original works – examples include literature, poems, documents, speeches, photographs, diaries, court records, interviews, surveys, polls, statistical information, and original research/fieldwork, to name a few.
    • original research published in scholarly/academic journals or presented at conferences
  2. Secondary sources are those that describe, analyze, or interpret primary sources, including:
    • books by a single author (monographs)
    • edited books of articles or essays by multiple authors
    • journal articles
    • reviews
  3. Tertiary sources are those used to define, organize, and locate secondary and primary sources.
    • Indexes – provide citations that fully identify a work with information such as author, titles of a book, article, and/or journal, publisher and publication date, volume and issue number and page numbers.
    • reference materials – define and provide background information, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, and textbooks
    • Abstracts – summarize the primary or secondary sources
    • Databases – searchable digital tools that often include abstracts for each primary or secondary resource, and may also include a digital copy of the resource, such as JSTOR.

Sometimes sources can be a blend of types. A dissertation may contain original research (primary source) as well as analysis of that research (secondary source). An encyclopedia entry may act as a tertiary source but the information may be referenced as a secondary source. Newspaper articles written at the time of a major event are primary sources; newspaper articles that provide additional information and analysis after the event can act as secondary sources.

Primary vs Secondary Sources (3:18)

Hartness Library (2017, January 25). Primary vs. secondary sources [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gStyna348M0.

Licensed under Creative Commons.

Reading Citations

Understanding how to read a citations and references can help make your research time more efficient. The resources below can help.