What is a “primary” source? How do I find them?


I will steal Western Libraries’ answer to this question: “Primary sources are accounts of events described or recorded by someone who either witnessed or participated in the events or who received their information from others who did.”

For our history friends (and other social scientists), you’re usually concerned with a wider variety of sources, such as:

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Newspaper articles
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Government documents
  • Autobiographies
  • Blogs/emails
  • Photographs
  • Videos
  • Art

For our science friends, if you’re asking to find primary sources that usually means original research articles (or, an article that discusses a research project, conducted by the author).  These types of articles usually include a hypothesis, methods, results and conclusions, as the author who is writing the article is the one who conducted the study.

Here are some other really helpful websites for finding information about primary sources:

Defining Primary Sources

Primary Source Online Collections

Guides and Websites from Other Canadian Universities

Primary Source Guides – For Brescia University College Students