Basic Research 102
Having once been a professional psycho-social researcher, I would borrow some possible definitions of research terminology...
Primary: Sources that contain raw, original, non interpreted and unevaluated information. These are best when the information comes from an "eye witness" or "participant." While the written word is considered better than oral tradition, there is also the value of period images as well as artifacts. (Historians love these.) Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle. Often in newspapers, weekly and monthly-produced magazines; letters, diaries, correspondence, diplomatic records.
Primary sources are also surviving artifacts (but they require their own additional research in the form of analysis and evaluation to put them into a correct period context of material culture, technology, application, and circumstance. An antique or relic, taken out of its period context, standing alone, is called a “statistical artifact,” and may or may not be valid or supportive of the research idea, theory, or hypothesis.)
Secondary: Sources that digest, analyze, evaluate and interpret the information contained within primary sources. They tend to be argumentative. Secondary sources tend to come second in the publication cycle. Often scholarly periodicals and books. (Professors like these.) Articles in scholarly journals analyzing the war, possibly footnoting primary documents; books analyzing the war.
Tertiary: Sources that compile, analyze, and digest secondary sources. They tend to be factual, however how reliable and valid they are can vary based upon the methodology of the research or the analysis, and interpretations drawn. Tertiary sources tend to come last in the publication cycle. Often reference books.
"Sources" will vary according to the type of research. However, the Library of Congress breaks sources down as follows:
biography (only if it's on an autobiographical record)
description and travel
biography (only if it's describing a biography--not an autobiography)
criticism and interpretation
history and criticism
law and legislation
moral and ethical aspects
politics and government
study and teaching
dictionaries and encyclopedias
handbooks, manuals, etc.
The combination of well-done primary, secondary, and tertiary sources combines to form the "hinge pin" of where our collective Civil War knowledge rests at any given moment. New questions leads to new research often opens new knowledge and pushes the model forward. However, the model has to work from the starting point of primary sources and resources.
All too often, we want to start at tertiary sources. Worse yet, we tend to be "consumers of research of various quality" rather than "producers of research of various quality." Meaning, we all too often want to simply use tertiary sources as evidence simply because the author got his correct or incorrect analysis and opinions in print (publishers print to sell books and return initial investments, not to establish truth or veracity).
Worse, is the ability of bogus and incorrect information to be posted on web sites and have it pass as researched fact. At least on the forums, that which is outside of the "hinge point" can be challenged, supported, defended, proven or disproven where a static website is immune to question.
In gleichem Schritt und Tritt, Curt Schmidt
-Hard and sharp as flint...secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
-Haplogroup R1b M343 (Subclade R1b1a2 M269)
-Pointless Folksy Wisdom Mess, Oblio Lodge #1
-Often incorrect, technically, historically, factually.