ENG 101 - College Writing

Learning Experience Librarian

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Veronica Nargi
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Katz Library
University of Maine at Augusta
Augusta, ME
207-621-3309

Info timeline

Informational sources can be classified roughly into three groups - primary, secondary, and tertiary - that reflect their originality. These groups are defined generally below.

Primary

Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information.
Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group. This is information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, or repackaged. Depending upon the context, these may include research reports, sales receipts, speeches, e-mails, original artwork, manuscripts, photos, diaries, personal letters, spoken stories/tales/interviews, diplomatic records, etc.

Think of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony in a court trial. Instructions for Paste and Spellcheck

Secondary

Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or summarize.
Commentary upon, or analysis of, events, ideas, or primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives. Examples are scholarly books, journals, magazines, criticism, interpretations, and so forth.

Think of a lawyer's final summation or jury discussion in a court trial.

Tertiary

Tertiary sources compile, index, or organize sources. 
Sources that analyzed, compiled, and digested secondary sources included mostly in abstracts, bibliographies, handbooks, encyclopedias, indexes, chronologies, etc.

Think of an index that lists all the cases heard by this court during the year.

Thank you, UConn Library!

In the humanities and social sciences, primary sources are the direct evidence or first-hand accounts of events without secondary analysis or interpretation. A primary source is a work that was created or written contemporary with the period or subject being studied. Secondary sources analyze or interpret historical events or creative works.

Primary sources

  • Autobiographies
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Original works of art
  • Photographs
  • Speeches
  • Works of literature

primary source is an original document containing firsthand information about a topic. Different fields of study may use different types of primary sources.

Secondary sources

  • Biographies
  • Dissertations
  • Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies (used to locate a secondary source)
  • Journal articles
  • Book about a primary source

secondary source contains commentary on or discussion about a primary source. The most important feature of secondary sources is that they offer an interpretation of information gathered from primary sources.

Tertiary sources

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Handbooks

tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources. They can be a good place to look up facts or get a general overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.

Examples

Subject Primary Secondary Tertiary
Art Painting Critical review of the painting Encyclopedia article on the artist
History Civil War diary Book on a Civil War Battle List of battle sites
Literature Novel or poem Essay about themes in the work Biography of the author
Political science Geneva Convention Article about prisoners of war Chronology of treaties

http://www.lib.vt.edu/help/research/primary-secondary-tertiary.html

In the sciences, primary sources are documents written by the person(s) who conducted the original research. For example, a primary source would be a research article where scientists describe their methodology, results, and conclusions about the genetics of tobacco plants. A secondary source would be an article commenting or analyzing the scientists' research on tobacco.

Primary sources

  • Conference proceedings
  • Original research articles
  • Lab notebooks
  • Data sets
  • Patents
  • Technical reports

These sources are where the results of original research are usually first published in the sciences. This makes them the best source of information on cutting edge topics. However the new ideas presented may not be fully refined or validated yet.

Secondary sources

  • Books
  • Review Articles

These sources tend to summarize the existing state of knowledge in a field at the time of publication. Secondary sources are useful places to learn about your topic in depth. They are useful places to find comparisons of different ideas and theories and to see how they may have changed over time.

Tertiary sources

  • Compilations
  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks

These types of sources present condensed material, generally with references back to the primary and/or secondary literature. They can be a good place to look up data or to get an overview of a subject, but they rarely contain original material.

Examples

Subjects Primary Secondary Tertiary
Agriculture Primary Research article paper on dairy microbiology Review article on the current state of dairy microbiology Encyclopedia article on dairy microbiology
Chemistry Chemical patent Book about organic chemical reactions Handbook of related organic reactions
Physics Conference proceeding on high energy physics A book about the current state of the field of high energy physics Dictionary of high energy physics

modified fromhttp://www.lib.vt.edu/help/research/primary-secondary-tertiary.html

The Information Cycle  What Is the Information Cycle? The information cycle is the progression of media coverage of a newsworthy event. Understanding the information cycle can help you determine what kind of information you are likely to find about your topic.  The Day of an Event Television, Social Media, and the Web •	The who, what, why, and where of the event •	Quick, not detailed, regularly updated •	Authors are journalists, bloggers, social media participants •	Intended for general audiences  The Day After an Event Newspapers •	Explanations and timelines of the event begin to appear •	More factual information, may include statistics, quotes, photographs, and editorial coverage •	Authors are journalists •	Intended for general audiences  The Week or Weeks After an Event Weekly Popular Magazines and News Magazines •	Long form stories begin to discuss the impact on society, culture, and public policy •	More detailed analyses, interviews, and various perspectives emerge •	Authors range from journalists to essayists, and commentary provided by scholars and experts in the field •	Intended for a general audience or specific nonprofessional groups  Six Months to a Year or More After an Event Academic, Scholarly Journals •	Focused, detailed analysis and theoretical, empirical research •	Peer-reviewed, ensuring high credibility and accuracy •	Authors include scholars, researchers, and professionals •	Intended for an audience of scholars, researchers, and university students  A Year to Years After an Event Books  •	In-depth coverage ranging from scholarly in-depth analysis to popular books •	Authors range from scholars to professionals to journalists •	Include reference books which provide factual information, overviews, and summaries  Government Reports •	Reports from federal, state, and local governments •	Authors include governmental panels, organizations, and committees •	Often focused on public policy, legislation, and statistical analysis

How does this relate to your project?

Questions to answer:
 

What type of information do you need?

What type of source(s) match(es) that need?

What format of source(s) match(es) that need?

What can you tell about how a source was made?

Does this help you decide if it is useful to you?

Does your project's format match that need?

What assumptions/judgments do you make about the source based on the format?

What does your project's format tell you about the information you are creating?

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