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Writing a Paper for Your Anthropology Class: Understanding Types of Sources

What are Primary Sources?


Primary sources are the data, original sources, or firsthand accounts of events or topics that become the subject of research. Primary sources can be documents, images, or artifacts. Primary sources allow researchers to get as close as possible to original ideas, events and empirical studies as possible. Such sources may include expositions of creative ideas, first hand or contemporary accounts of events, results of empirical observations or studies, and other items that may form the basis of further research. 

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Interviews
  • Works of art
  • Artifacts
  • Data sets
  • Experimental research results
  • Fieldwork notebooks and documents
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Works of literature (poems, plays, novels)
  • Speeches
  • Technical Reports
  • Government documents
  • Historic newspapers

What are Secondary Resources?


Secondary sources analyze, review, or elucideate information in primary resources or other secondary resources. Even sources presenting facts or descriptions about events are secondary unless they are based on direct participation or observation. Moreover, secondary sources often rely on other secondary sources and standard disciplinary methods to reach results, and they provide the principle sources of analysis about primary sources.

Examples of Secondary Sources

  • Journal articles
  • Scholarly books
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Investigative journalism 
  • Magazine and newspaper articles
  • Gray literature such as unpublished archaeological reports
  • Biographies
  • Blog posts
  • Online exhibits

What are Tertiary Resources?


Tertiary resources provide overviews of topics by synthesizing information gathered from other resources. Tertiary resources often provide data in a convenient form or provide information with context by which to interpret it.

Examples of Tertiary Sources

  • Encyclopedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Handbooks
  • Almanacs
  • Textbooks
  • Newspaper and magazine articles reporting on other research but not participating in

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