What is a Primary Source?

What is A Primary Source?

A document or physical object that was written or created during the time period that you are researching. Sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. These might be sources that someone would say are “from the horse’s mouth.”


  • Diaries and autobiographies
  • Letters or emails (written to a person or from a person – or that mention the topic that you are researching)
  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Newspaper articles (written about the person during their life)
  • Obituaries
  • Speech (made by the person you are researching, or contemporary to the event you are researching)
  • Creative works of an individual- novels, artwork, lyrics
  • What is a Secondary Source?

    A document that interprets and/or analyses and discusses primary sources. A work that cites the work of others. One or more steps removed from the original source documents.


  • Textbook
  • Magazine article
  • Encyclopedia
  • Book that contains a work cited page
  • How Do I Tell If A Book is A Primary or Secondary Source?

  • Does the book have a bibliography or works cited page? If yes, it is a secondary source. If no, further examination of the source is required.
  • Is the publication date contemporary to the period that you are studying? Is the author a person that you are studying? Is it a diary or autobiography of someone who lived during the events or period that you are researching? If yes, then the item is a primary source.
  • I found a great secondary source? How do I find a primary source?

  • Look at the works cited/bibliography page of the book that you have found.
  • Look for the resources that author used to create their book.
  • You can look for the primary sources they used and analyze and interpret them yourself and use them as primary sources for your research.