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Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources

What are tertiary sources?

Tertiary sources contain information that has been compiled from primary and secondary sources. They organize information in an easily accessible way and often point the researcher to the primary and secondary literature on a given topic. 

What is the role of tertiary sources in research?

Despite their name, tertiary sources are really the first resources researchers should consult when beginning a research project. They provide a general orientation to a topic and list relevant primary and secondary sources to help researchers progress to the next stage of their work. Think about tertiary sources as gateways to more specific sources. Usually tertiary sources are not cited in research unless the author uses them to demonstrate a general understanding of a topic. 

What are some examples of tertiary sources?

Tertiary sources include:

  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies
  • Chronologies
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Glossaries
  • Directories
  • Guidebooks
  • Indexes
  • Abstracts
  • Manuals
  • Atlases
  • Gazettes
  • Textbooks

Tertiary sources are usually found in the Reference section of libraries.