On this page, you'll learn:
what tertiary sources are and what they look like in different disciplines
where to find tertiary sources
how to use tertiary sources
additional tips to help you identify whether a source is tertiary
Tertiary sources provide overviews and context on a topic but generally no original material on that topic. They are often also referred to as "reference sources."
Like primary and secondary sources, tertiary sources may look different depending on your discipline. For example:
|In STEM & Medical Fields||In the Humanities and Social Sciences|
|Fact books||Fact books|
Tertiary sources are mainly used for the following reasons:
to get background information on a topic
to quickly find additional sources about a topic
to learn the meanings of technical language or jargon in other sources on your topic
Tertiary sources are not usually cited in papers because they do not have original ideas. However, you should still provide a quick summary of any background information that is necessary for your reader to understand your argument. They often contain useful statistics or historical data which provide important context to your research topic. Language you can use to provide these summaries include:
A number of __________ have recently suggested that ________.
The standard way of thinking about X has it that ________.
Many people assume that ________.
You probably already know that Wikipedia is not a scholarly source you should cite in a research paper. However, it can be a great way to introduce yourself to topics with which you are not already familiar. Most Wikipedia articles also contain references to scholarly sources that you can cite in your own paper; just be careful to read the actual cited source to verify the information referenced in Wikipedia is correct.