Primary vs. Secondary Research

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What is a Primary Document?

A primary document is an original artifact or document. They are from the time period when the event happened.

Here are some examples:
  • Speeches
  • News segments
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Editorials
  • Interviews

Why should I use Primary Documents?

Primary documents are often from the time of the event unless it is a memoir or journal written from the person who experienced the event. Secondary documents are often written years later. Secondary documents can often contain an author's bias since there has been time to reflect on the event. Using primary documents gives the researcher an opportunity to create their own opinions.
Primary vs. Secondary Sources

How do I tell if it is a Primary Document?

How can I tell if it is a primary source?

The following characteristics can help you differentiate primary sources from those that are not.


  • How does the author know what he/she knows?
  • Does his/her knowledge stem from personal experience or having witnessed an event?
  • Does the author cite several other (published) reports?


  • Why is the information being provided or the article written?
  • Are there references to other writings on this topic?


  • Is the date of publication evident?
  • Does the date of publication close to the event described?

From this link.

Where do I find Primary documents?

HINT: Use Newspaper Source and MAS Complete on EBSCO. Also choose to limit the search for Primary Source Document.

What are some tips for getting the documents I need?

1. Brainstorm some keywords and phrases about your topic. If you were researching women's suffrage in America, for example, some good keywords and phrases might be "suffrage," "women," "feminis*," "nineteenth amendment," "vote*," or "activis*".

2. At the Advanced Search, pair your keyword with some of them common words found in subject headings for primary sources. These include:

* correspondence
* diaries
* speeches
* personal narratives
* documents
* interviews

3. If you want to impose any limits on your search, such as location or language, choose them in the options box. Then click Submit.

4. Browse your results and click on titles which sound relevant or useful to your topic.


How to search for primary documents on Google?

To find primary documents on the web, try the following internet search

topic + “primary source”.

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Don't forget Google Books and Google Scholar!!

Collected by Jennifer Gibson-Millis