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The Research Process

Use different types of sources to form unique impressions and foster curiosity in the research process

Find sources for your topic online, in research databases, or by interacting with the original idea or creative work. Using multiple types of sources helps you develop a well rounded project. 

 This guide will help you:

  • Get familiar with the three types of sources

  • Understand how each type supports research

  • Learn where to access the sources

 How do different types of sources support my research?

Now imagine that your research is like a target, and each source is in a different part of that target. 

  • Primary sources are in the center. They include original ideas, research or creative works. They give us direct, "first hand" information.

  • Secondary sources are in the next level. They help us see the original idea through an expert's experience or researchThey give us indirect information that can be subjective or objective.

  • Tertiary sources, aka background information, are the outside layer. They contain trusted information about the topic. They don't include opinions, judgements or feelings. We use them to gather reliable facts in order to get a better understanding about our topic. The give us indirect, objective information.

Sometimes a source gets a different label depending on your academic area, context or instructor, so check with your instructor for clarification. Here are a few examples:

  • Movies:

    • primary: fiction movie is a unique creative piece 

    • secondary: documentary about the impact of 9-11. Though, this may feature primary source material such as interviews, footage or speeches 

  • Blogs or podcasts:

    • primary: personal life experience, such as an individual's personal experience of an illness. It happened to the writer

    • secondary: opinions about a topic, because the author is sharing their feelings or their own impressions

  • Newspapers:

    • primary: Reporting on an event where the writer relays the facts to others, a published speechphotographs, and sometimes even advertisements 

    • secondary: an editorial, commentary or opinion 

 Where do I find them? 

There are thousands of places to find sources. Here are a few places to start:  

  • Primary sources

    • Read diaries, autobiographies, newspapers, speeches or select blogs

    • Watch concerts and films, or listen to music and select podcasts

    • Visit museums or archives to look at and interact with creative works

    • Search primary source databases from the library

  • Secondary sources:

  • Background information

    • Search reference databases from the library

    • Consult encyclopedias, dictionaries or reference books

    • Look for professional organizations with access to first hand knowledge about the topic


Works Consulted: