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Citing Sources

Links to information and guides to all the major style guides, especially MLA, APA, and Chicago

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts of an event or an era created by participants of the immediate time-period.

Primary sources are original documents, artworks, or artifacts that provide historical evidence upon which later analysis and reporting is based. 

     -Letters, diaries, memoirs, speeches
     -Oral histories
     -Photographs, films
     -Government documents
     -Art works [novels, poems, paintings, songs, murals, etc.]
     -Artifacts [advertisements, posters, pamphlets, clothing, buildings, etc.]
-Original data, original research & case studies
     -E-mail, blogs, Tweets

• Often uses first-person voice
"I saw... I escaped... I believed... We surveyed... We studied..."
• Has original, direct perspective
• Is an original, creative product;
a new study, conducted for the first time
• Is a product of its immediate time or era
• Testifies, emotes, expresses

Finding Primary Sources never easy.  How you go about it depends on your topic. It's a good idea to ask for personal help from a professor or librarian; they may recommend a specialized resource for your research. Here are some search tricks you can try:

» Search in a Library Catalog for books or publications that contain primary sources.  Conduct an Advanced Search for...

  • The topic of your research AND a type of primary source, for instance...
    World War, 1914-1918 AND diaries
    Nisei AND oral histories
    civil rights AND interviews
    nutrition AND case studies
  • Items published during the time period you're researching by limiting the dates of publication, for instance...
    Search the key terms Soviet Union and limit to works published between 1950 and 1960 to retrieve Cold War documents
  • Creative works such as novels, poems, or photographs related to your topic, for instance...
    Iraq AND photographs
    Industrial Revolution AND art

» Search in digital collections hosted on the World Wide Web. Find a collection focussed on the era, region, or topic that you're researching and see what you can find including:

  • Archive Grid:
  • New York Public Library Digital Collections:

» Search in a database that supplies primary source materials, such as...


How is it different from a secondary source?

Secondary sources offer analysis and interpretation of primary sources. Secondary sources are typically published well after the events of the original time period. 

A book analyzing an event that happened years before, or an essay interpreting a poem or speech--these are secondary sources.

     -Analytical scholarly articles
     -Analytical essays & critiques
     -Book reviews, music reviews, art reviews
     -News accounts

•  Often uses third-person voice
"He saw... She escaped... They believed... They surveyed...
They studied..."
•  Has second-hand, indirect perspective
•  Dependent, derivational product
•  Produced after some time has passed
•  Reports upon, analyzes, interprets

Additional Help

Want to Practice?

Imagine you're studying the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II in the Manzanar relocation camp.

Consider each of the following resources and reflect: Is it a primary or secondary source?


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