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Primary Sources Research: Home

Definition: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

PRIMARY SOURCE is generally defined as some kind of original material or data that has not been through the filter of interpretation.  Primary sources are a wonderful way to gain a deeper insight into your topic because they were generally created at or near the time period being studied.  Depending on your research topic and perspective, primary sources can include

newspapers or magazines  diaries and letters
interviews, speeches business or organizational records 
eyewitness accounts art objects
photographs results of an experiment
video or film government documents
oral histories / memoirs books / diaries

A SECONDARY SOURCE is generally defined as something that analyzes, interprets, or comments on a primary source. In history, the key secondary sources that you need to find are research books and research journal articles.

Words to use when searching

Add these words to the end of your search for sources on any topic to focus your search specifically on primary sources.

correspondence personal narratives photographs
sources diaries speeches

For example: women's rights sources

General Search Tips

  • Remember to think about both the TOPICS that you are researching as well as the TYPES OF PRIMARY SOURCES that you would expect to contain information about your topics (for example, if you were interested in childbirth practices in 18th century Europe, what types of sources from that period might have that kind of data?).  Sometimes you can find better results if you look for a particular type of source (for example, 18th century medical texts) than keyword searching on your specific topic (eg "childbirth practices").

  • When reading articles and books related to your topic, pay close attention to FOOTNOTES/CITATIONS. You can use this information to track down the primary source material that the author used.

Need Help?

If you have any questions or any suggestions please contact Ms. Bogas - I'm excited to help you, and I love a good hunt!   OR  925-283-2101 ext. 3226