User:Ningauble/Useful/Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources

This is an essay. It is not a policy or guideline; it merely reflects some opinions of its author(s). Please update the page as needed, or discuss it on the talk page.

The distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources is important at both Wikiquote and Wikipedia. Wikiquote strives to cite primary sources for the origins of quotations "straight from the horse's mouth", while Wikipedia articles usually cite secondary sources of information on a subject for objective coverage.

Primary, secondary, and tertiary sources edit

For the purpose of citing quotations, primary, secondary and tertiary sources may be described as follows:

  • Primary sources include published works by the person quoted, recordings and transcripts from reliable sources, and contemporaneous firsthand reports of reliable eyewitnesses.
    Primary sources are of primary importance for verifiable accuracy. First editions are preferred for establishing chronology, and because subsequent editions are sometimes corrupted, unless the first edition is regarded as a preliminary work that has been superseded by a later definitive edition. Transcripts and eyewitness accounts (e.g., newspaper interviews) are not always 100% accurate, but they are still considered primary attestations.
  • Secondary sources are those that repeat the previously published words of someone else. When they cite the primary source this is called quotation, otherwise it is more properly termed attribution and may be treated with some skepticism.
    Secondary sources are a valuable way to demonstrate quotability by showing that a statement is actually quoted outside the primary source. This is but one of several considerations for assessing quotability, and for suitable sources it can be a determinative one. There is considerable subjectivity in the criteria of quotability, and evaluating secondary sources can itself be subjective. E.g., quotability is not necessarily indicated by sources that have a narrow interest or a close association with the author or the subject, and a quotation in contemporaneous news reporting is a weaker indication than one in retrospective news analysis.
  • Tertiary sources are those that compile quotations and attest to their quotability, usually based on widespread appearance in secondary sources. Wikiquote is a tertiary source.
    Notable, high quality tertiary sources provide conclusive evidence of quotability. Even when they contain misattributions and misquotes, they attest to wide circulation in that form. Not all tertiary sources are reliable in these respects. E.g., among those that are less notable or that focus on a specific subject area, many include material that the editors believe ought to be widely quoted even though it is not, based on their own subjective assessment of quotability.

Choosing a source edit

  1. The principal citation should be the primary source whenever it can be found.
  2. Translations into English should cite the primary source of the translation whenever it can be found.
  3. Reliable secondary or tertiary sources may be cited in lieu of primary sources that cannot be found.
  4. When quotability is debatable, a supplementary citation to a notable secondary or tertiary source may be included as evidence.

Context edit

Although the distinction between primary, secondary, and tertiary sources is made at both Wikiquote and Wikipedia, and their meanings are essentially the same, the objects to which they apply and the purposes for which they are used are distinctly different.

It is the degree of separation from the subject under consideration that characterizes a secondary source of information about a subject at Wikipedia; but it is being separate from the origin of the quote that defines a secondary source of quotation at Wikiquote. The former relates to notability of the subject and to characterizing original research; but the latter relates to reliability and quotability at Wikiquote. This means that a statement about subject S in a work by author A, which may be used as a secondary source of information about S in an encyclopedia or news article, is actually a primary source for quoting A in a Wikiquote article, regardless of whether the subject of the article is S or A.

See also edit