Research Sources – Know the Difference

research sourcesResearch projects are an integral component of curriculum. Students select an area of inquiry and then they explore to investigate the topic. As educators, we focus on helping students to develop competent research strategies and prepare them for success. Students should recognize authentic, trustworthy sources. They should also be aware of the different types of resources: primary, secondary, and tertiary sources of information. And, searching these sources in a logical order promotes a systematic, proficient, and comprehensive understanding.

In TechnoBiography, students are guided through the research process. They begin by looking at sample biographies, then brainstorm, complete a planning organizer, and finally investigate all three different types of sources of online data – primary, secondary, and tertiary – in a structured order.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary Sources
Primary sources of information are original artifacts, documents, research sourcesrecordings, or other sources of information about a topic. They offer first hand, original evidence. For students studying a biography, here are some examples of primary sources:

What did the person say or write?

  • speech or transcript
  • journal article
  • diary entry
  • letter or email
  • notebook
  • postcard
  • interview
  • personal blog
  • telegram
  • autobiography
  • social media post by person
  • video testimonial
What documents relate to life events?

  • birth certificate
  • marriage license
  • school report card or diploma
  • contract or agreement
  • membership card
  • act or treaty
  • warrant
  • passport or citizenship certificate
  • driver’s license
  • property deed
  • baptism certificate
  • will
What did the person make?

  • book or poem
  • artwork
  • song sheet
  • play
  • manuscript
  • invention
  • architecture
What did the person do?

  • photograph
  • video footage of live event
  • audio recording of live event
  • newspaper article of live event
  • eyewitness account of live event
  • medieval tapestry
  • experiment results
What awards of recognition were given?

  • trophy or plaque
  • medal or prize
  • certificate of recognition
What items did the person own?

  • vehicle
  • clothing or jewelry
  • instrument

Primary Source Tips:

  1. Timing Matters: A primary source is created at the time of the event or shortly after.
  2. No Judgement: A primary source is raw data and has not been interpreted by someone else.
  3. Verify Authenticity: Check the source of the artifact. It should be posted by a reliable source such as a museum, reputable organization, or official fan club.
  4. Copy of Original: A primary source is often one-of-a-kind or rare. Since there is a limited number, the artifact can be the actual item, digital copy, or exact replica.

Secondary Sources
Secondary sources of information research sourcesare created after an event has occurred or by someone who did not experience or participate in the event first-hand. In the case of a biography, the information was written or recorded by someone else about the person. Secondary sources often include opinions about the event or person so they have value in analyzing its importance or significance.

  • biography
  • newspaper editorial
  • magazine story
  • movie of historical event
  • documentary
  • review
  • non-fiction book
  • expert commentary
  • social media post by others
  • fan website
Secondary Source Tips:

  1. Find Trustworthy Sources: Use secondary sources from universities, government agencies, historical societies, organizations, museums, biography TV networks, or official fan pages. Avoid sources where the author or creator is unknown.
  2. Consider the Perspective: The creator has a purpose for making the secondary source. These reasons may cause them to hide facts, distort events, or draw false conclusions. Look for sources that are objective and unbiased.
  3. Check References: A secondary source will often list books, websites, or other sources of information. Use them to research.

Tertiary Sources
Tertiary sources of information offer broad research sourcesintroductory overviews of a topic gathered from a variety of sources. They have usually been contributed to by a number of authors and reviewed to ensure accuracy. Examples are encyclopedias or dictionaries. Like secondary sources, they may contain an interpretation or evaluation in addition to facts.

Order is Important in Research

When conducting a research project, knowing the different types of sources of information is essential. But the resources should be used in a logical order too. Start with a basic outline, then move on to find out the importance of the topic, and finally explore the original evidence:

  1. Begin with tertiary sources to get a general summary from a variety of sources.
  2. Search secondary sources to gain a deeper understanding and discover other viewpoints and perspectives on the topic.
  3. Then examine primary sources to view first-hand, original artifacts or evidence. Study the raw data to draw your own conclusions.

About TechnoHella

Hella Comat, Curriculum Writer - Hella Comat is a dedicated professional, who has taught in the education system for more than 30 years. As a pioneer of technology integration in Ontario public schools she was one of the first teachers to introduce the internet, video conferencing, web design, and multimedia learning activities to teachers and students in the Halton Board. To inspire teachers to use technology, she has led sessions for the Touch Technology program, ran workshops at education conferences, and sat on numerous advisory committees related to technology-issues. In recent years she taught the Computer in the Classroom course, at York University. Her lifelong commitment to teaching and learning was acknowledged when she was honored as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics. Hella's contribution to the blog includes entries about the importance of technology integration. Drawing from her in-depth knowledge of technology in the classroom Hella writes about teaching strategies and useful resources that can benefit your practice. In addition, she provides innovative lesson ideas that you can implement into your own curriculum.