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HIST: Class IV History Research Guide (Ms. Dey)

Using Primary Sources

Books in the library. Try searching for these terms with your topic:

Sources Letters Journal
Diaries Reminiscences Autobiography
Documents Court Decisions Narratives
Correspondence Own Words Eyewitness
Accounts Speeches Addresses


Online Sources:

Answer the questions below about your source. If you answer, “yes” to any of the following questions, there is a good chance the source is PRIMARY.

  • Did the author personally witness or experience the subject in question?
  • Does the author know about this subject because of personal experience rather than having just read about it?
  • Is this source a diary, letter, memoir, autobiography, oral history, or interview of a person with first hand experience of the subject?
  • Is this source an official document or record published at the time of the event by the government, courts, or another organization?
  • Is this source a newspaper or magazine article written at the time of the event?
  • Is this a creative work such as a novel, poem, art or music piece created by a firsthand witness of the subject in question?
  • Is this an excerpt from a primary source, such as the Constitution or a letter written by a Civil War soldier that has been imbedded in a secondary source, such as a textbook? Remember, secondary sources may include reprints of primary sources.
  • Is this an artifact or relic such as jewelry, pottery, clothing, music, art, architecture, dance or weaponry that was used by witnesses of the subject in question?
  • Is this a compilation of raw scientific data or statistics, such as census statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau, that is being published without commentary or interpretation?


Primary source excerpt from the original law code Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012.

Secondary source text discussing the primary sourceSpielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012.