A primary source is an original object or document -- the raw material or first-hand information, source material that is closest to what is being studied.
Primary sources vary by discipline and can include historical and legal documents, eye witness accounts, results of an experiment, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, film, and art objects. In the natural and social sciences, the results of an experiment or study are typically found in scholarly articles or papers delivered at conferences, so those articles and papers that present the original results are considered primary sources.
A secondary source is something written about a primary source. Secondary sources include comments on, interpretations of, or discussions about the original material. Secondary source materials can be articles in newspapers or popular magazines, book or movie reviews, or articles found in scholarly journals that evaluate or criticize someone else's original research.
A tertiary source is a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources.
(Image above: Scarface Movie Poster,1932, Classic Movie Hub)
|Art and Architecture||Painting by Georgia O'Keeffe||Article critiquing art piece|
|Physical/Life Sciences||Jane Goodall's Autobiography||Meg Greene's: Jane Goodall: a Biography|
|Engineering/Physical Sciences||Patent||NTIS database|
|Humanities||Letters by Martin Luther King||Web site on King's writings|
|Social Sciences||Notes taken by clinical psychologist||Magazine article about the psychological condition|
|Performing Arts||Movie filmed in 1942||Biography of the director|
Primary Sources in the Library's Catalog
When using a library catalog to search for primary sources, you may have to wade through many pages of secondary source material to find primary documents for your project. Here are some tips to help you locate these documents quickly.
Search By Author
When searching for primary documents on a person, try using the person's name as an Author search (LastName, FirstName). When correspondence is cataloged, the writer of the letter (your topic) is generally listed as the author of the collection. (Example: Hopper, Hedda). This same strategy works for organizations, too.
Manuscript collections or archives of organizational records often include some of the following keywords in their titles or content descriptions. By including these words as keywords in a search, you have a better chance of finding collections of historical documents:
collection | papers | archives | diaries | letters | account | narrative | personal | correspondence | autobiography
Note: Use truncation to pick up both the singular and plural form of these keywords.
Limiting Your Search
You may be able to limit your search to Archival material by using Advanced Search. Under Format, look for a field labeled "archival material."
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