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PLSC 3190: Law, Politics & Society

This guide supports PLSC 3190 (Professor Angelique Davis) for Fall 2016

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources in the area of international human rights law include treaties as well as primary source materials from relevant UN bodies (treaty monitoring bodies, for example), regional organizations (Council of Europe, African Union, OAS, among others), and other international organizations (relevant materials from organizations like WIPO, WTO, World Bank, etc).

Primary sources are original, uninterpreted information (Original = Primary = First)
Unedited, firsthand access to words, images, or objects created by persons directly involved in an activity or event or speaking directly for a group. This is information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun, or repackaged. Depending upon the context, these may include treaties, research reports, legal cases, parliamentary debates, ambassador's reports, statutes, administrative regulations, speeches, manuscripts, diaries, personal letters, diplomatic records, etc.

Think of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony in a court trial.


Secondary sources interpret, analyze, or summarize (Not original = Secondary = Not first)
Commentary upon, or analysis of, events, ideas, or primary sources. Because they are often written significantly after events by parties not directly involved but who have special expertise, they may provide historical context or critical perspectives. Examples are scholarly books, journals, magazines, criticism, interpretations, and so forth.

Think of a lawyer's final summation or jury discussion in a court trial.


Primary sources:
Secondary sources:
  • Created at the time of an event, or very soon after
  • Created after event; sometimes a long time after something happened
  • Created by someone who saw or heard an event themselves
  • Often uses primary sources as examples. Written by someone not directly involved with event. Explains or interprets primary sources
  • Information before it has been analyzed, interpreted, commented upon, spun or repackaged
  • Expresses an opinion or an argument about a past event
  • Often uses first-person voice (I saw ... I believed)
  • Uses third-person voice (He saw ... She escaped). Has second-hand, indirect perspective
  •  Testifies, emotes, expresses
  •  Reports upon, analyzes

What are Tertiary Sources

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources offer a summary of a topic, event or condition and include primary and secondary sources. Indexes that guide users to specific locations within a book or source are also considered tertiary.  Many reference books are considered tertiary sources.

Tertiary sources include:

  • Almanacs
  • Bibliographies
  • Chonologies
  • Indexes
  • Manuals
  • Textbooks

 Some sources are both secondary and tertiary like dictionaries and encyclopedias

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