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ENG 102 English Literature and Composition C. Grimes

What are primary Sources

  • primary source is "a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event."
  • "Secondary sources are theoretical or critical texts which are part of the professional wisdom on or related to your primary object of study."

Source: Princeton Library

What are primary sources?



An original, "firsthand" or "eyewitness" account offering an inside view. "Secondhand" information.
Contains new information that has not been interpreted, evaluated, paraphrased, or condensed by someone else. Contains information that has been digested, analyzed, reworded or interpreted, and often combines information taken from primary sources and even other secondary sources.
Usually created during (or very close to) the time of the events on which they report. Often written well after the events reported on; puts past information in a historical context.
Author typically provides direct impressions of events on which he or she is reporting. Author typically reports on the impressions and experiences of other people.

Tips for finding primary sources

1. Find secondary sources first

  • Use the Library Catalog and   to find books and articles on your topic. Review the Wikipedia entry on your topic.

2. Use secondary sources to locate primary sources.

  • Do your secondary sources contain any primary source materials?
  • Are there clues in your secondary sources about primary sources that exist on your topic, such as the titles of documents?
  • Do the reference lists (bibliographies) from your secondary sources contain information on primary source materials?

3. Google it.

  • Try a Google search using your topic plus one of the words on the primary source examples list at left, e.g. Sylvia Plath letters or Sylvia Plath interview