Skip to Main Content

What are Background Sources and Why to Use Them?

What are background or tertiary sources

Tertiary sources - often called background or reference sources - are based completely on secondary sources and the research of others, rather than on primary sources or the author's original research. They pull together existing information on a particular issue or event, usually in an easy to read format, with the goal of synthesizing large amounts of information.

They are often excellent starting points for research projects because they provide useful information that is easy to access and understand. A good reference or tertiary source can provide:

  • Key dates, places, people and events related to a topic
  • Useful search terms for further research
  • Suggestions for further reading on the topic

Note that these types of sources are not peer-reviewed. They are intended to provide you with enough of an understanding of and vocabulary for your topic to allow you to successfully find more in-depth, scholarly information (like peer-reviewed books and journal articles).


History Encyclopedias & Reference Collections

Biographical Dictionaries

Profile Photo
Alice Swabey
Drop-in help Mondays 12-2 at the Library Service Desk. Appointments available via Google Meet or in-person. Email help is also available.