Library:Evaluating Types of Sources

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Types of Sources

It is important to know the differences between primary, secondary and tertiary sources. See below for characteristics and examples of these three forms of texts as appropriate to the sciences:

Characteristics and examples of primary, secondary and tertiary sources in the sciences


  • In research journals
  • Usually only include references to other primary sources
  • Covers very focused and specialized topics

Example: The journal Boundary-Layer Meteorology


  • Research writings or graduate level text
  • Generally include a large bibliography
  • Usually bibliographic references are primary sources
  • Topic coverage is more focused than tertiary, but less focused than primary

Example: The book Atmospheric Boundary Layer, by J.R. Garratt, 1992.


  • Undergraduate text, or a textbook designed for a course
  • Sparse references, generally secondary sources
  • General and very broad topic coverage

Example: The book The Atmosphere, by R.A. Anthes, et al., 2nd ed. 1978