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Finding Primary Sources: Intro

Introduction to primary sources and where to go to find them.

Welcome to the Primary Sources Guide

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented.

Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Source: Primary Sources at Yale

Why Use Primary Sources?

Research involves examining primary sources (original material) to test and validate the point of view or interpretation of the material later published as a reference work or secondary source.

A primary source is direct evidence to the event, person, or subject of research, however on its own it may be difficult to interpret.

Use primary sources to:

  • find evidence that challenge interpretations or support one scholar's interpretation over that of another,
  • write an interpretation of your own, 
  • look for more primary sources for evidence to confirm or refute your thesis.

When you present your conclusions, you will have produced another secondary source to aid others in their research.

Evaluating Primary Sources

Primary sources are the foundations of histories. Evaluation of the sources is essential to scholarly research.

  • Who was the author and who was the audience of the primary source?
  • What was the purpose of the document or motive for writing it?
  • Does the writer have an obvious bias?
  • When was this document written, and what was the effect of the document on history?
  • What affect did the document have on the your view of this topic or event?
  • Compare the primary source information with secondary source information.

Information accessed using the internet needs to be critically evaluated. Be sure to check out our immensely helpful Evaluation page!


Images in the banner for this guide, from left to right:
- old moated castle by docsynder69 (license)
Wimmenumermolen by Ben (license)
the secret by in touch (license)
anicent roman marble by Swamibu (license)
statue by ‾olǝƃuɐ‾'s (license)

This page is based off the Primary Sources Guide created by the Reid Arts and Business Library (University of Western Australia)

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