What are the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, and why do historians often avoid using tertiary sources?

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Primary sources offer empirical evidence concerning various historical events. One advantage of primary sources is that they help readers to be empathetic because they analyze heuristic accounts of events. Furthermore, primary sources are useful in developing critical thinking skills, as they need one to examine them thoughtfully and make inferences. A disadvantage of primary sources is that the information provided is not analyzed and it can be time-consuming to interpret it. In addition, primary sources can have a one-sided view of a particular event. Scholars who lack the first-hand experience of historical events create secondary sources.

Secondary sources come in the form of books, articles, and encyclopedias. An advantage of secondary sources is they are resource-efficient because information has already been collected, analyzed, and compiled in different formats. Moreover, secondary sources give one a chance to evaluate different types of information and arguments on the same topic. The disadvantage of using secondary sources is that they can be expensive. Even more, there could be quality concerns if the person analyzing the information does not agree with the data collection methods.

Tertiary sources organize, compile, and summarize other reference materials. Examples of tertiary sources include dictionaries, directories, and manuals. One the advantages of tertiary sources is that they are less time-consuming to analyze as they summarize both secondary and primary data. Even more, tertiary sources are mostly free and available online. One disadvantage of using tertiary sources is that authors are not credited, which makes it difficult to determine the credibility of the resources. Also, tertiary sources can have limited information regarding a particular subject. Many historians do not use tertiary sources because they do not advance specific arguments, and most of the information provided must be verified using primary and secondary data.

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