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Distance Learning: Primary & Secondary Sources

This guide offers an introduction to library services; tools and tips for research, writing, and citation; and key resources for distance education students.

What are Primary & Secondary Sources?

  • Primary sources are original works created by a person who witnessed or participated in an event.  Examples include diaries, memoirs, letters, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs, and manuscripts.  Government materials are sometimes considered primary sources, too.
  • Secondary sources discuss information originally presented elsewhere.  They include scholarly journal articles, books, conference proceedings, dissertations, and class lectures.

Generally, first-hand accounts of an event are considered primary sources, and materials created by a person analyzing that event at a later time are considered secondary sources.

Where you'll find primary and secondary sources varies depending on the topic you're researching, but the "Primary Sources" and "Secondary Sources" pages of this History guide can help you get started.

Primary Sources Search Tips

Where you'll find primary and secondary sources varies depending on the topic you're researching, but here are some tips to get you started with your search.

  • Use the Libraries' databases page
    • To find primary sources relevant to the movement or artificact you're studying, select Historical/Primary Resources from the Type menu. 
    • You can also use the Subjects menu to limit your search, or leave this item blank to see a list of all of the electronic resources for primary source research.
  • Use Scout to locate primary sources.
    • Enter a subject or topic in which you are interested and words like source, letter, speech, writing, document, diary or diaries, paper, etc.. For example, searching for "civil rights" and speech will locate speeches delivered during the Civil Rights Movement.
    • Search for historical figures as authors.  Someone researching the Civil Rights Movement could search for Martin Luther King Jr. as an author to locate his writings and speeches.
    • Search for a topic then narrow the results to a particular type of publication- like Primary Source Document- by using the Source Types limiter on the left side of the page.
    • Include a publication type in your search. The Scout FAQ lists some options, including Interview, Letter, and Speech.
    • Find secondary sources on your topic, and scan their bibliographies for primary sources.

Scout Search

Use Scout to search for books, journals, articles, and more.

Find Databases

Visit the databases page to search by subject or type, browse by alphabet, or view all databases.