Skip to Main Content

FYI 101/2: Traylor

Library resources for Garrett Traylor's First Year Inquiry students!

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

When doing research, it’s important to use a variety of sources so you can get a well-rounded view, include several voices and perspectives, and diminish bias.  Depending on your research needs, you may need to draw on a variety of different types of sources.  Some may be more or less useful, depending on your research question.

Primary Sources:

Primary sources are original documents, such as interviews, letters, original research findings, works of art, legal documents, and more. They are first hand accounts of an event that has happened, and involves someone who has a direct connection with the event or work. 


  • Work of art (i.e. painting, novels, plays, photographs, music, video games, etc.)
  • Interviews and oral histories 
  • Letters and diaries
  • Original research articles (articles reporting new information and results, NOT a review of others' research)
  • Speeches
  • Etc.

Secondary Sources:

Secondary sources are a report or analysis of something that has already happened. They are an interpretation of a primary source. For this assignment, you may also consider these as sources that you use to interpret your primary sources (and may also include what we might otherwise think of as a primary source as listed above).


  • Literature review
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Biographies
  • Reference books 
  • Descriptions of artistic works
  • Etc.

Tertiary Sources:

Tertiary sources are sources that index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.


  • Dictionaries/encyclopedias (may also be secondary)
  • Almanacs
  • Handbooks/Guidebooks/Manuals
  • Meta-analysis
  • Indexing and abstracting sources
  • Etc.

Newspaper Articles:

Although newspaper articles are typically secondary sources, some are primary; it can be confusing.  If the newspaper article is reporting on a recent event, then it would be considered primary. If it's reporting on either something that has happened in the past, or drawing in information from other sources, it would be secondary. 


A newspaper article from 1912 that reports on the sinking of the Titanic would be a primary source since it's an article from the time the event happened.

A newspaper article from 2019 reporting on the results of the presidential election of 2016 would be a secondary event since it's reporting on something that has already happened.  

Popular Vs. Scholarly (Peer-Review)

Other Common Types of Sources

Other types of sources that you may find useful in your research can include (but are not necessarily limited to):

Professional/Trade Sources

Trade publications are generally published by professional organizations, with articles written by practitioners in a particular field or trade (e.g. nurses, teachers, social workers, etc.), for an audience of other practitioners in that field.  They are focused on a specific profession or trade and so may use specialized language, but are not necessarily intended to be "scholarly."  Rather, they communicate news and trends in that field.

Conference Proceedings

Conference proceedings are compilations of papers, research, and information presented at conferences.  Proceedings are sometimes peer-reviewed and are often the first publication of research that later appears in a scholarly publication.  Proceedings are more commonly encountered (via databases and other searching) in science and engineering fields that in the arts and humanities.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses and dissertations are the result of an individual student's research while in a graduate (or sometimes undergraduate) program.  They are written under the guidance and review of an academic committee but are not considered "peer-reviewed" or "refereed" publications.  Still, they can be particularly useful documents for getting familiar with a topic and research related to that topic (great for mining bibliographies!).

Government Documents

The Government Printing Office disseminates information issued by all three branches of the government to federal depository libraries (including NMSU).  Additionally, the many departments of the government publish reports, data, statistics, white papers, consumer information, transcripts of hearings, and more.  Some of the information published by government offices is technical and scientific.  Other information is meant for the general public.