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Source Categories

What to expect from this guide

Greetings Students:

This guide explains primary and secondary sources with some emphasis on CON. It includes advice for:

  • Defining what primary and secondary sources are in order to distinguish and identify sources by their characteristics.

  • Determining the most appropriate source type for your research need in order to provide the best possible support for your argument.

  • Incorporating primary and secondary sources into your writing.

Tips to keep in mind

  • A primary/secondary source in the humanities or social sciences will look different from a primary/secondary/tertiary source in the sciences or medicine or nursing research, Quality improvement, or clinical practice. The purpose of how one will use the information like the topic will drive which category a source is categorized.

  • Depending on the research topic, any object or source--including secondary sources--can be used as a primary source.
  • Tertiary sources provide overviews and context, like textbooks, or point of care search engines ( e.g. DynaMed, UpToDate, and StatPearls.) It is a great starting point to familiarize oneself with a topic and may include references to specific research articles. Tertiary sources can also be used as a citation in a paper depending on the context of the paper; however, in clinical practice, it is preferred that one uses primary and secondary sources to support clinical decisions.

  • Do not confuse EVIDENCE (or level of Evidence) with the type of source. Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources are all types of evidence, by category.