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Primary Sources

This guide introduces the characteristics of primary sources, with focuses on how and where to find primary sources in the fields of history and science.

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are records that provide first-hand accounts or evidence of an event, action, topic, or time period. Primary sources are usually created by individuals that directly experience an event or topic. Common examples of primary sources include: letters, diaries, speeches, interviews, photographs, government documents, artistic works, works of literature (fiction; poetry), original research reports and data sets.

How to Use Primary Sources

Primary sources can give direct evidence, specific details, and can provide a window into the feelings, reactions, and perceptions of a time. Primary sources might be used as an example or evidence in your paper. The downside of primary sources is that they may include bias, give a limited perspective, or lack context.

Secondary sources provide context and analysis to primary sources. They can give understanding to an artifact and respond to it, often with multiple perspectives. Secondary sources can be used to provide background information in your paper and to engage or further an argument.

For more information on how to use a source in your paper, check out these resources:

Examples of Types of Primary Sources

Conducting Your Own Interviews and Other Primary Research

Original Research Published in Scholarly Journals

In an EBSCO or Proquest database, limit your search to scholarly/peer-reviewed journals, and make sure that your article has a "method" section.

It is also possible to limit your search to "Primary Source Documents" in some databases.

See below for what an original research article looks like: