Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary Resources
There are three acceptable types of resources in academic writing:
- Primary: the first and best resource. If you’re discussing a novel, the novel is the primary resource; if you’re discussing a person, an interview or an autobiography is the primary resource; if you’re doing a lab, your experiment is the primary resource. Use primary resources as often as possible.
- Secondary: the second-best resource. This is the “he said” resource; it’s a step away from the real thing. Secondary resources can include authorized biographies, book or film reviews, and most scholarly articles.
- Tertiary: tertiary resources should only be used if absolutely necessary. Because they’re two steps away from the real thing (“she said that he said” resources), the chance of misinterpretation has increased dramatically. If you’ve ever played that children’s game of Whispered Telephone, where the message that gets back to you is completely different than the one you sent out, you’ll see what the problem is with tertiary resources.
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