This is the "Primary Sources" page of the "Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources" guide.
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Primary Sources vs. Secondary Sources  

Last Updated: Mar 27, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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Primary Sources

 Primary Sources

Primary sources are contemporary accounts of an event, written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question.  They are records of events as they are first described and reflect the viewpoint of the individual participant or observer.  

 These original documents are often:

  • Diaries, letters, journals
  • Autobiographies, memoirs
  • Speeches, interviews (recorded and transcribed)
  • Published reports of the original results of scientific studies and clinical trials
  • Government records (census, marriage, military)
  • Transcripts
  • Original literary or theatrical works (when studying the original work in question)
  • Newspaper articles may be considered a primary source when they are factual and are describing an original event. (For example, a newspaper reporter might witness a fire and report on the fire the day after it happens.)


Primary sources can also include non-written resources, such as:

  • Paintings, drawings, sculptures
  • Photographs, posters, postcards
  • Maps
  • Audio recordings (of original events) or audio interviews
  • Video recordings (of original events) or video interviews


    However, the definition of “primary source” can vary depending on your research question.  For example, Shakespeare’s play “Richard III” would be a primary source if you’re studying Shakespeare, but not if you’re studying the actual person “Richard III”.







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    Colleen Kehoe-Robinson
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