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Primary, secondary and tertiary sources: Tertiary sources

Navigating the research process


A tertiary source provides a broad overview of a topic. It should not show an open bias or opinion about the topic, and rarely includes references to source material. Often there is no author indicated.

To begin your research, you'll need a list of search terms related to your topic. Look for the names of people, treaties, government statues, battles, places - anything that opens a door to further exploration of your topic. You can find this kind of information in a wide variety of places, including:

  • Encyclopedias, both print and online
  • A textbook
  • A nonfiction book that provides descriptive overviews
  • Websites that provide background or overview information: BBC, History Channel, US Office of the Historian overviews, etc.
  • Any authoritative source that provides a description of an event, rather than a historical opinion or analysis

It is very helpful to create a research document for taking brief notes, keeping track of search terms, saving website urls to revisit, and asking questions that will guide your research. This is not something to turn in - it is for your own use and should be organized in whatever way works best for you.

Finding tertiary sources in Menlo School Library databases

Step one: tertiary research

This worksheet will guide you through the first step of your research process. 

Citation checklist

Do you want to be sure you have formatted your research paper correctly? Click the link below to download a Chicago style citation and formatting checklinst.

Research Organization Template

Want help keeping track of all your sources? Make a copy of this research organization Google Doc template and customize it however best fits your needs.