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Source types: arts: Introduction


Research papers and projects require the use of various of types of sources, including primary sources, secondary sources, tertiary sources, and grey literature. These sources are all valuable to academic research, and this guide will help to understand when it is appropriate to use each source type.

Primary, secondary, tertiary and grey literature overview

Primary sources: are works that are based off of first hand experience, including original artistic work, work pertaining to a particular place and time, personal documents, or research data.

Secondary sources: are works that analyse, criticise, or describe a primary source. Secondary sources are often written after the time of the primary source, by an author that was not present at the primary event.

Tertiary sources: are works that summarize and interpret primary and secondary sources to create a general overview on a given subject or topic.

Grey literature: is any source that is not published by commercial publishers. Grey literature varies in format, but can often include reports, government documents, and institutional or company reports. 

Understanding primary, secondary, and tertiary literature

Useful modules created by the University of Waterloo and held within the Online Learning Object Repository (OLOR):

Additional helpful links to identify primary sources, secondary sources, tertiary sources, and grey literature: