VCU Libraries

Research Guides

Identify Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources

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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