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Research Databases for Students: Using Primary Sources

This guide empowers students, parents, and teachers with the tools and resources necessary to complete research or homework assignments utilizing library research databases and library materials effectively

Research with Primary Sources

Primary Sources are things that give first-hand or direct information about the past. For the historian, primary sources are the 'nuts and bolts' of their trade, from which all secondary texts are produced. Primary materials include

  • first hand accounts
    • oral records
    • diaries
    • memoirs
    • correspondence
  • documents
    • correspondence
    • treaties
    • laws
    • speeches
  • images
    • maps
    • photographs
    • drawings
    • paintings
  • data
    • statistics
    • surveys
    • opinion polls
    • scientific data

OWL Writing Lab Tutorials

How do you analyze and use primary sources in research?

The following tutorial from the Owl Writing Lab at Purdue University answers your questions.  At the bottom of each page, use the right arrow to progress to the next page.




Interviewing Strategies

Surveying Techniques

Analyzing Data




Utilizing Primary Sources

Using primary sources

A number of issues have to be considered when using primary sources:

  • when was the document produced: was it close to the time and place of the event?
  • why was it produced?
  • for whom was it produced? (for private 'consumption' or for public/propaganda reasons)
  • are there any clues in the document through which the content may be cross-checked?
  • is there any obvious bias? - all documents are biased in some way or another
  • are the values of the writer, inherent in the document, different from those of the reader? (this is going to be more than likely)

Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore

The Value of Primary Sources

The value of primary sources

  • they were produced at the same time as the events they describe, so the information they contain is original
  • they were not written separately from the events they documented
  • they rarely contain someone else's view of the events
  • they allow historians to make their own analyses and judgments of the information without having to consider someone else's interpretation and/or opinions

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

Apollo Moon Mission

Finding Primary Source Material Using JSTOR

Understanding Primary Sources