Primary, secondary and tertiary sources during nursing research
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Sources in academic writing are materials that a writer uses to gather ideas and information. The most frequently used sources for academic writing are those in print forms such as journals and books because they orient more towards the subject. Non-print sources are also essential in some instances because they contain valuable information. Some of the non-print sources for nursing academic work research include:


  • Radio and television broadcasts
  • Internet sites
  • Recordings
  • Transcripts
  • Pictures and films

The categorization of information or evidence material can be primary, secondary or tertiary. The basis of this classification is on originality of the material, origin, and proximity of the source. It informs readers whether the author of a nursing paper is reporting first-hand information or conveying opinions and experiences of other people as these are regarded as second hand.It is tricky to determine primary, secondary or tertiary sources. This description below can help you to find the meaning and differences of the above three categories of information.

Primary sources

These sources are the records of evidence or events because they are the first description or convey events that took place without an interpretation or commentary. A primary source is an original material on which specific research is based, or it is something to show for the first time. Primary sources display original thinking, report on the discoveries or even share fresh information.

These are exemplary examples of primary sources.

  • Scholarly journal articles that are research based
  • Thesis
  • Dissertations
  • Symposia and conference proceedings
  • Some government reports poems
  • Original artwork
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Memos
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives
  • Autobiographies
  • Correspondence
Secondary sources

These sources offer a restatement of the primary sources or an analysis. The often attempt to explain or describe sources. Secondary sources will in most instances be works summarizing, interpreting, reorganizing or providing added value to primary sources.

Examples of secondary sources

  • Textbooks
  • Articles and books interpreting or reviewing research works
  • Edited works
  • Literary criticism and interpretation
  • Histories
  • Biographies
  • Political analyses and commentaries
  • Reviews of legislation and law

You can use primary and secondary source data together .for instance your interest during research might be workloads by professors. A nursing research paper during the semester might start with a survey of the professors during the work hours to gather primary data. A request for particular reports from them is a method of collecting secondary data. Using both sources becomes a triangulation or dual methods in study design.

Tertiary sources

Tertiary sources are a collection of information based on primaryand secondary sources.Tertiary sources index, compile, abstract, organize or digest other sources. Some textbook and reference materials are tertiary sources if their chief purpose is listing, summarizing or repackaging ideas or any additional information. There is usually no crediting of tertiary sources to a particular author.

Examples of the tertiary sources

  • Dictionaries and encyclopedias (these might also be secondary)
  • Wikipedia
  • Factbooks
  • Almanacs
  • Directories
  • Bibliographies (can also be secondary)
  • Guidebooks
  • Handbooks
  • Manuals
  • Textbooks (some are also secondary)
  • Indexing and abstracting sources

An evaluation and weighing of quality for each source or combination are essential. The value of all evidence gathered from various sources is not equal. Data from the primary source is the ideal type of collect since the closeness to the source of an original account of target information, or event increases the accuracy of the data.A primary source of data has more value when a researcher is trying to gain a deeper understanding of a situation as it contains raw or original evidence.A comparison of secondary to primary sources shows that former include information where the people are beginning to develop initial understandings about a topic and literature reviews. Tertiary sources consolidate the primary and secondary sources.

A researcher for sources to use in an academic nursing paper should always assume that the assigning lecturers want the use of all types of sources unless there isa requirement to use only one.