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Finding Primary Sources

A guide to finding primary sources for History research.

Three Types of Sources

There are three types of sources:

1) Primary Sources

  • Materials that contain direct evidence, first-hand testimony, or an eyewitness account concerning a topic or event under investigation
  • Primary sources provide the raw data for your research
  • Examples:  In addition to diaries, correspondence, statistics, photographs, and the many other types sources typically considered to be primary sources, you may add just about anything to the list.  The way you interpret or use a source determines whether it is a primary source or not.

2) Secondary Sources

  • Use primary data to solve research problems
  • Examples:  scholarly books and articles
  • Secondary sources can be interpreted as primary sources when the artifactual characteristics of the item are of research value.

3) Tertiary Sources

  • Books or articles that synthesize and report on secondary sources for general readers
  • Examples include textbooks, encyclopedia articles, Wikipedia

Adapted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, c2008.