ENG 303 Course Guide

Primary sources

Sample ancient text to demonstrate a primary source










Primary Sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic, from people who had a direct connection with it.


  • Texts of laws and other original documents.
  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did.
  • Speeches, diaries, letters and interviews - what the people involved said or wrote.
  • Original research.
  • Photographs, video, or audio that capture an event.

Secondary sources

Sample page of a journal article

Secondary Sources are ABOUT primary sources, though they often quote or otherwise use primary sources. Secondary sources present the analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of primary sources and can provide value to a primary source.


  • Most books about a topic.
  • Analysis or interpretation of data.
  • Scholarly or other articles about a topic, especially by people not directly involved.
  • Documentaries (though they often include photos or video portions that can be considered primary sources).

Tertiary sources

Gettysburg Address encyclopedia entry

Tertiary Sources compile, index, and/or organize information from primary and secondary sources. A tertiary source is the furthest removed from an event, idea, or period and can provide researchers with an overview of background information. 


  • Encyclopedias and textbooks (both can also be a secondary source, depending on the focus of the text)
  • Article index
  • Bibliography
  • Handbook

More info on primary, secondary, and tertiary sources