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International Studies

Use this guide as a starting point for research in International Studies.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary sources are documents or records created by witnesses or participants of past events

Secondary sources interpret, analyze or draw conclusions from primary sources. They are createdafter the event.

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, charters, constitutions, parliamentary debates, ambassador's reports, statutes, administrative regulations, speeches, manuscripts, diaries, personal letters, photographs, video footage, posters, diplomatic records, etc.


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.


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

Primary vs. Secondary Sources Examples

Primary Source

Secondary Source

The Gettysburg Address

Writing the Gettysburg Address by Martin P. Johnson

Margaret Bourke White's photographs of Dust Bowl farmers during the Great Depression

A documentary by PBS about the era of the Dust Bowl farmer

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

An article in a literary journal about dreams in that play

The Treaty of Versailles

The book, The Versailles Treaty and Its Legacy of Versailles by Norman Graebner

Results of a study on home births published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal

An article analyzing data about homebirths  quoting that study

The movie, The Godfather

Roger Ebert's review of The Godfather

Results of an opinion poll regarding the Iraq War

An article in the Washington Post about the war incorporating that data

A research study that looks at the political differences between liberals and conservatives

A newspaper article about the research study

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Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons

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