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IFS 2088: Sustainable Food & Water

Use this guide to find resources for Dr. Chanton's IFS 2088 Class.

Context, Context, Context

Context determines whether a source is primary, secondary or tertiary. Sources that are normally considered to fit into one category may sometimes be used as another. For example, encyclopedias are normally used as tertiary resources, but a study of how encyclopedias have evolved through time would probably use them as primary sources. Each discipline has its own set of standards for what counts as a primary source; when in doubt, ask a librarian!

What is the difference?

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary are three different classifications used to categorize source types. By understanding the difference in types we can understand if the author is providing information first hand (providing a primary source) or if the information is coming after the fact (secondary and tertiary sources). The classifications are dependent on the originality of the material and the proximity of source to the origin. 

Primary Sources are defined as first-hand accounts or individual representations and creative works. They are records of events or evidence as they are first described without any interpretation or commentary. 


  • Literary creation: novels, short stories, poems, etc. 
  • Artifacts (e.g. coins, plant specimens, fossils, furniture, tools, clothing, all from the time under study);
  • Audio recordings
  • Diaries;
  • Internet communications on email, listservs;
  • Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail);
  • Journal articles published in peer-reviewed publications;
  • Letters;
  • Newspaper articles written at the time;
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcript);
  • Patents;
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings of Meetings, conferences and symposia;
  • Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g. annual report, treaty, constitution, government document);
  • Speeches;
  • Survey Research (e.g., market surveys, public opinion polls);
  • Video recordings (e.g. television programs);
  • Works of art, architecture, literature, and music (e.g., paintings, sculptures, musical scores, buildings, novels, poems).

Secondary Sources are analysis or restatement of primary sources. They are looking back at an event, experiment, or time period and attempt to summarize, interpret, reorganize, or provide an added value to a primary source. 

*It is important to note that some sources are considered secondary sources in one field while other fields consider them tertiary.*


  • Bibliographies (also considered tertiary);
  • Biographical works;
  • Commentaries, criticisms;
  • Dictionaries, Encyclopedias (also considered tertiary);
  • Histories;
  • Literary criticism such as Journal articles;
  • Magazine and newspaper articles;
  • Monographs, other than fiction and autobiography;
  • Textbooks (also considered tertiary);
  • Web site (also considered primary).

Tertiary Sources are designed to organize, summarize, and compile other sources into on place. They are usually not credited to a particular author.

*It is important to note that some sources are considered tertiary sources in one field while other fields consider them secondary.*

  • Almanacs;
  • Bibliographies (also considered secondary);
  • Chronologies;
  • Dictionaries and Encyclopedias (also considered secondary);
  • Directories;
  • Fact books;
  • Guidebooks;
  • Indexes, abstracts, bibliographies used to locate primary and secondary sources;
  • Manuals;
  • Textbooks (also be secondary).

Primary and Secondary Sources in Law

Primary Law Sources are defined as a statement of the law itself from a government entity, such as a court, legislature, executive agency, President or Governor. 

Secondary Law Sources are materials that discuss, explain, interpret, and  analyze what the law is or what it should be. 


Primary Sources in Law Secondary Sources in Law
Code of Federal Regulations Articles about law
Contracts, wills, other legal documents Books about law
Court decisions Law reference books
Federal Registrar Law reviews
US Code Legal news
Text of legislative bills  


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