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Find Primary and Secondary Sources

What are primary and secondary sources, and how can you find them?

What are Primary Sources?

examples of primary sources

Primary sources are contemporary accounts of an event, created by someone who experienced or witnessed the event in question as and when it occurred.  They are records of events as they are first described and reflect the viewpoint of the individual participant or observer. They provide a first-hand account, generally without hindsight or reflection.

Examples of written primary sources are:

  • 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.)

Examples of non-written primary sources are:

  • 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”. Still have questions? Ask a librarian!

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