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Primary Sources

This guide will help you learn the difference between primary and secondary sources in various subject areas and provides resources for locating primary sources, both in the library and on the open web.

Evaluating and Citing Primary Sources

Evaluating Primary Sources
 

When working with primary sources, it is important to evaluate the quality of these sources. These questions can help you determine whether your document is a reliable source:

  • Who created the source and why? Was it created through a spur-of-the-moment act, a routine transaction, or a thoughtful, deliberate process?
  • Did the recorder have firsthand knowledge of the event? Or, did the recorder report what others saw and heard?
  • Was the recorder a neutral party, or did the creator have opinions or interests that might have influenced what was recorded?
  • Did the recorder produce the source for personal use, for one or more individuals, or for a large audience?
  • Was the source meant to be public or private?
  • Did the recorder wish to inform or persuade others? (Check the words in the source. The words may tell you whether the recorder was trying to be objective or persuasive.) Did the recorder have reasons to be honest or dishonest?
  • Was the information recorded during the event, immediately after the event, or after some lapse of time? How large a lapse of time? (Source: Analysis of Primary Sources, Library of Congress) 


For further information on evaluating primary sources:

Primary Sources: Evaluating from Lafayette College Library

Analyzing Primary Sources from Library of Congress

Citing Primary Sources

It is important to provide complete information about your primary source whether found in a printed source or online. The basic elements to include in a citation for a published print source are: author of the document, title of the document, title of the book if different from the document, name of editor or author of the book, place of publication, publisher, year, and page numbers. The basic elements to include in a citation for an online source are: author of the document, title of the document, title of the web site, author or producer of the web site, url, date (if given) and date accessed. Various style formats such as Chicago, MLA and APA put these elements in different order using different conventions.

Source: Using Primary Sources on the Web, Reference and User Services Association

The following websites provide information that will assist you in citing primary sources:

Citing Primary Sources: Chicago

Citing Primary Sources: MLA