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SEMR 2153 Information Literacy in the Social Sciences

Welcome to the Information Literacy in the Social Sciences research guide.

Evaluating and Assessing Sources

Secondary Sources

"Secondary sources are less easily defined than primary sources. Generally, they are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence."-University Libraries, University of Maryland
Examples: Biographies, Commentaries, Histories, Criticisms, etc.

Tertiary Sources

"Tertiary sources consist of information which is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources."-University Libraries, University of Maryland
Examples: Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Bibliographies, Almanacs, etc.

Blurry Lines

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. A tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources.

VIDEO: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary/Secondary/Tertiary Sources

Primary secondary tertiary

Primary sources include:

  • Accounts by an eyewitness or the first recorder of an event, in written or other form, including microform and electronic reproduction. Examples are diaries, autobiographies, letters, minutes of meetings, news footage, newspaper articles.
  • Data obtained through original research, statistical compilations or legal requirements. Examples are reports of scientific experiments, U. S. census records, public records.
  • Creative works such as poetry, music, or art
  • Artifacts such as arrowheads, pottery, furniture, and buildings.

Secondary sources are works that interpret the primary data, such as a book about eating disorders, a journal article about the role of tobacco in the colonial economy, or a critical review of a play.

Tertiary sources are works that compile, analyze, and digest secondary sources. General and specialized encyclopedias are familiar examples of tertiary sources.

Characteristics of a Primary Research Article

Once you've located some articles, you will need to begin reviewing the articles in your results list. Most empirical articles contain the information listed below, even though it may be found under different headings. Review each section to see what questions the article attempts to answer. Does the evidence presented support the claims that are made? How do these claims relate to the piece of conventional wisdom you're exploring?

  • Presents original data and ideas from a scientific investigation reported by scientist and written for others in the field.
  • Reports the results of experiments, observations, and other scientific investigation.
  • Published in journals.
  • The body of the article usually contains the following sections:
  • Abstract --- brief description of the research question, the general methods, and the major findings and implications of the work.
  • Introduction ---research question and background information are presented
  • Methods (or Materials and Methods) (Experimental Procedures) ---a description of the research methods used
  • Results ---data collected are presented in written form and by using tables, graphs, and figures
  • Discussion ---researchers interpretation of the data
  • Acknowledgements, and Literature Cited (or References) ---works cited by the researcher

Comparison Across the Disciplines

Comparison across the disciplines

Art and Architecture Painting by Manet Article critiquing art piece ArtStor database
Chemistry/Life Sciences Einstein's diary Monograph on Einstein's life Dictionary on Theory of Relativity
Engineering/Physical Sciences Patent NTIS database Manual on using invention
Humanities Letters by Martin Luther King Web site on King's writings Encyclopedia on Civil Rights Movement
Social Sciences Notes taken by clinical psychologist Magazine article about the psychological condition Textbook on clinical psychology
Performing Arts Movie filmed in 1942 Biography of the director Guide to the movie