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Finding Primary and Secondary Sources

Finding Sources

Art Primary Sources
In the visual and performing arts disciplines, primary sources are often the original creative work of an artist, composer, or performer. 

Examples of primary sources would include the painting “Children at the Beach” by Mary Cassatt, a performance of “Hamlet” by a theatre company, or a manuscript score of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. 

For primary source research in the arts it may be ideal to see the original work (painting or manuscript score), or go to a live performance. With the Baltimore and Washington DC art museums and performing arts ensembles close by there are many fabulous opportunities to view original art and live performances. However, due to the rarity of the item or its location, viewing original works in person is not always feasible or necessary for your research. Many libraries, museums, and cultural institutions provide digital collections of paintings, musical scores, or performances that you can view online as an image or recording. For example, you can access high quality art images as follows:  

Steps:

  • Search library subscription databases such as ARTstor or Routledge Performance Archive. Click on the “Database” tab on the library homepage and type in your discipline, such as Art, Music, etc. 
  • For links to primary source databases you can search Visual Art, Music, Dance, and Theatre research guides. Primary sources can often be found under the image, audio, and video collections tabs on the guides.
  • Search the UMBC Special Collections for art primary sources including fine art and local photography. 
  • You can type “art” or “music” etc. into the Database search box on the library homepage.
  • In addition, some cultural institutions have free digital collections online that can be found by typing in the name of the museum, performing ensemble, or specific title of the piece of art in a Google search. For example, you can search the digital collections from the Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institute, New York Philharmonic youtube channel, and many others. 

Art Secondary Sources 
A secondary source is a work of scholarship that discusses, researches, analyzes, interprets, etc. an original artwork or performance.

Examples include the book Martha Graham: The evolution of her dance theory and training by Marian Horosko is an example of a secondary source-- a scholarly work about the performing artist Martha Graham. Likewise, an article published in the Journal of the Society for American Music about Nina Simone is a secondary source. 

In order to find secondary sources, you can search the name of an artist or creative work in the article search to bring up books & articles.

Steps:

  • From the library homepage, click on the Articles tab and type in the name of an artist or creative work in the search bar. As you scroll through the results, look for items that are designated “Academic Journals” or articles that are peer reviewed for scholarly sources. You can also look for popular secondary sources, such as magazines and newspapers, that are written for a general audience. 
  • You can also do a similar search on the “Books” tab from the library homepage. Scholarly books will often be those published from a University press. 
  • Alternatively, you can search for secondary sources in a particular discipline by exploring the “Finding Books” and “Finding Articles” tabs on the Visual Art, Music, Dance, and Theatre research guides. 

Art Tertiary Sources
Tertiary sources are reference works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, glossaries, discographies, etc.

Examples: Reference works typically summarize, describe, and categorize works of art and artists. They are different from secondary sources in that they do not present an interpretation or an argument, and are most helpful when first starting out on your research to provide some basic background information. 

Steps: 

Humanities Primary Sources

Primary sources in the Humanities disciplines (such as English, Ancient Studies, History, Languages, etc.) are materials from the time period of an event or an original work. They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during a historical event, or the creation of an original creative work such as a poem or novel.

Examples include: Letters, diaries, government reports, church records, civil records (birth/death/marriage), literary manuscripts, fliers, posters, political cartoons, etc.

Steps: In order to find Humanities primary sources:

Humanities Secondary sources are sources that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon.  It is generally at least one step removed from the event, written by another author, and is often based on primary sources.  Examples include: Scholarly or popular books and articles, magazines, and newspapers, etc.

Steps: In order to find Humanities Secondary Sources:

  • From the library homepage, click on the Articles tab and type in your search. For example, if you are looking for articles about the “Civil Rights movement,” you can type that keyword in the search box.  As you scroll through the results, look for items that are designated “Academic Journals” or articles that are peer reviewed for scholarly sources. You can also look for popular secondary sources, such as magazines and newspapers, that are written for a general audience.
  • You can also do a similar search on the “Books” tab from the library homepage. Scholarly books will often be those published from a University press.
  • Alternatively, you can search for secondary sources in a particular discipline by exploring the "Getting Started," “Finding Books” and “Finding Articles” tabs on the English, History, Ancient Studies, American Studies, Asian Studies, Africana Studies, Languages, Philosophy, etc. 

Humanities Tertiary sources are sources that identify and locate primary and secondary sources. Examples include reference works such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, some textbooks, glossaries, discographies, etc. Reference works typically summarize, describe, and categorize works of art and artists. They are different from secondary sources in that they do not present an interpretation or an argument, and are most helpful when first starting out on your research to provide some basic background information.

Steps: In order to find Tertiary sources in the Humanities:

Social Science Primary

The social sciences primary sources are generally defined as material produced at the time of an event, or by a person being studied or significantly involved with the event. Primary sources of information are often called the "raw material." Psychology and sociology place a heavy emphasis on unanalyzed data sets as primary sources. Numerical data sets such as census figures, opinion polls, surveys or interview transcripts constitute this type of raw, uninterrupted data. A researcher’s field notes are also primary sources in the social sciences. Social Sciences primary sources are studies report on research done by the author(s) of the study.

Examples: Social sciences primary sources include conference proceedings, interviews, lab notebooks, patents, technical reports, theses and dissertations and other publications such as government documents, and other materials

Steps:

  • From the library homepage
  • Click the Articles tab
  • Within the search box type keywords describing your topic in the search box case study, quantitative, longitude
  • From the search results page, filter your results by “peer reviewed” which limits your results to scholarly journal articles

DO NOT include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources

 
Social Science Secondary

There are no specific search terms associated with secondary sources so this makes searching for valid secondary sources harder to some extent. It is important to remember that secondary sources provide background information and discussion on your topic. They are written after an event occurred. They give you a broader perspective and analyze the event/topic/work/person you are researching.

To determine if your information source is a valid secondary source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the author interpreting or analyzing or discussing an event that happened?
  • Does the author cite other works written about the topic?
  • If it is an experiment that is being discussed, was the experiment conducted by the author or is the author discussing someone else's experiment

Examples: Medline, Science Direct, GreenFILE and CINAHL Plus

Steps:

Social Science Tertiary

Tertiary sources consist of primary and secondary source information which has been collected and distilled. The information is compiled and digested into factual representation, so that it does not obviously reflect points of view, critiques or persuasions. They present summaries of or an introduction to the current state of research on a topic, summarize or condense information from primary and secondary sources, or provide a list of primary and secondary sources of more extensive information. Tertiary sources are typically the last to be published in the information cycle.  Because it has been filtered through many reviewers, it tends to consist of highly reliable and accurate information, plus contain broad perspectives of topics. 

Examples: Encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries, handbooks, guides, classification, chronology, and other fact books.

Steps:

STEM Primary

Most literature in scientific databases/journals will be primary sources. However make sure to avoid meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources. Primary sources are original materials/information on which other research is based. Primary source documents focus on original research, ideas, or findings published in academic journals. These items mark the first publication of such research; and they detail the researcher’s methodology and results. They may also be referred to as primary research, primary articles, or research studies. They are frequently found in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals and should explain the research methodology used (randomized controlled trial, etc). STEM primary sources are factual, not interpretive. 

Examples: Journal articles of original research, conference papers, dissertations, technical reports, and patents. Primary sources are also sets of data, such as health statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted. Plant or mineral samples and other artifacts are primary sources as well. 

Steps:

  • From the library homepage 
  • Click the Articles tab
  • Within the search box type keywords describing your topic in the search box case study, quantitative, longitude
  • From the search results page, filter your results by “peer reviewed” which limits your results to scholarly journal articles 

DO NOT include meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or literature reviews - these are secondary sources

STEM Secondary

Secondary sources analyses, evaluates, interprets, re-packages, summarizes or reorganizes information reported by researchers in the primary literature. Secondary sources are critiques, descriptions or reviews of original works.  This includes critiques of play, review articles that discuss somebody else's original research, etc.  Secondary sources are written by someone other than the author of the original work. Any published or unpublished work that is one step removed from the original source, usually describing, summarizing, analyzing, evaluating, derived from, or based on primary source materials, for example, a review, critical analysis, second-person account, or biographical or historical study. Also refers to material other than primary sources used in the preparation of a written work. These include:

Examples: 

  • Review Journals: These generally start with Annual Review of …, Advances in …, Current Opinion in …
  • Article Reviews: Articles that summarize the current literature on a specific topic
  • Textbooks: These can be either specialized to a narrow topic or a boarder overview

Steps:

STEM Tertiary

Tertiary sources consist of primary and secondary source information which has been collected and distilled. They present summaries of or an introduction to the current state of research on a topic, summarize or condense information from primary and secondary sources, or provide a list of primary and secondary sources of more extensive information.These are sources that index, abstract, organize, compile, or digest other sources. Some reference materials and textbooks are considered tertiary sources when their chief purpose is to list, summarize or simply repackage ideas or other information. Tertiary sources are usually not credited to a particular author.

Examples:

Dictionaries/encyclopedias (may also be secondary), almanacs, fact books, Wikipedia, bibliographies (may also be secondary), directories, guidebooks, manuals, handbooks, and textbooks (may be secondary), indexing and abstracting sources.

Steps:​