VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Identify Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources

Navigating with confidence

What to expect from this guide

Hello! This guide explains what primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are. It includes advice for:

  • Defining what primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are in order to distinguish and identify sources by their characteristics.

  • Determining the most appropriate source type for your research need in order to provide the best possible support for your argument.

  • Incorporating primary, secondary, and tertiary sources into your writing.

Tips to keep in mind

  • A primary/secondary/tertiary source in the humanities or social sciences will look different from a primary/secondary/tertiary source in the sciences or medicine.

  • Depending on the research topic, any object or source--including secondary and tertiary sources--can be used as a primary source.
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