The Standard Definition
In historical writing, a primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:
* ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records
* CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art
* RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings
Examples of primary sources include:
* Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII
* The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History
* A journal article reporting NEW research or findings
* Weavings and pottery - Native American history
* Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece
What is a secondary source?
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:
* PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias
Examples of secondary sources include:
* A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings
* A history textbook
* A book about the effects of WWI
Search by keyword for Primary Sources in the Main Catalog
You can search the Main Catalog to find direct references to primary source material. Perform a keyword search for your topic and add one of the words below:
(these are several examples of words that would identify a source as primary)
* early works
* personal narratives
Another Possible Usage
PRIMARY SOURCE (more frequently PRIMARY TEXT) is sometimes used in a different sense in some types of classes. In a literature class, for example, the primary source might be a novel about which you are writing, and secondary sources those sources also writing about that novel (i.e., literary criticism). However, if you were writing about the literary criticism itself and making an argument about literary theory and the practice of literary criticism, some would use the term PRIMARY SOURCE to refer to the criticism about which you are writing, and secondary sources other sources also making theoretical arguments about the practice of literary criticism. In this second sense of primary source, whatever you are primarily writing ABOUT becomes the primary source, and secondary sources are those sources also writing about that source. Often this will be called the PRIMARY TEXT, but some people do use primary source with this meaning.
Just so you can keep up with all the scholarly jargon about sources, a tertiary source is a source that builds upon secondary sources to provide information. The most common example is an encyclopedia. Consider a particular revolution as an historical event. All the documents from the time become primary sources. All the historians writing later produce secondary sources. Then someone reads those secondary sources and summarizes them in an encyclopedia article, which becomes a tertiary source. If someone then collected a bibliography of encyclopedia articles on the topic, that might be a quarternary source, but at that point the whole thing just becomes silly.
|Evaluation of Web documents||How to interpret the basics|
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FROM: Kapoun, Jim. "Teaching undergrads WEB evaluation: A guide for library instruction." C&RL News (July/August 1998): 522-523.
After you’ve identified a possible source, you need to evaluate its relevance for your project: what kind of function might it serve in the argument (e.g. primary focus of analysis, background or context, other scholarly perspectives to grapple with). Making sure you’re aware of—and in many cases screening for—a source’s authoritativeness, accuracy, and scholarly quality is also crucially important.
Some of the questions below you should ask yourself before you even retrieve a source from the stacks (or database), and some you should ask once you have it in your hands (Notes: You may not be able to find information in your source to answer all these questions; also, some of these same questions may be useful for evaluating websites where you find information on your topic).
Do I even want to get this source?
1) What kind of source is it? (monograph, scholarly anthology, bound journal, work in a series, biography, etc.)
2) Who is the author? Is he or she affiliated with an institution? Has she written other books? Have you heard of him before, in a citation for example? Can you find him or her on Google?
3) Who is the publisher? (academic press, commercial press, etc.)
4) What year was the work published? Is it a reprint, and if so, what is the original year of publication?
Do I want to trust this source?
5) Read the first paragraph and assess the writing. How would you describe the style?
6) Is there a foreword and/or afterword? Who wrote them? Can you find information on the reputation of that person?
7) Is there a bibliography? Footnotes? A Works Cited page? Do these offer other sources that might be useful? Is there an index? (This is one mark of a scholarly book, and also a sign that you’ll be able to easily identify the parts of the book that are on your topic.)
8) Are there any other distinguishing elements of your source that stand out to you?
Keep in mind, CRAAP is a good thing.
After considering your answers to all of these questions, does this source seem Current, Relevant, Authoritative, Accurate and Purposeful?