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Primary Sources Guide

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

a handwritten page from a diary

A primary source usually refers to a first-hand account of a period/event/finding that the author directly experienced/observed. They do not need to be written by the individual you are writing about, they can be written by any individual that witnessed the event. In some cases, if you cannot access an original document, you may find a digital copy online. Every discipline defines primary source material slightly differently.

  • Newspapers and magazine articles
  • Letters, diaries, and other personal documents
  • Original creative work
  • Government documents, laws, and/or court documents
  • Maps, land surveys, land registers
  • Scientific data
  • Autobiographies


Secondary Sources

Secondary sources analyze, synthesize, and/or interpret original primary material.

  • Journal/magazine articles that are interpreting primary source(s)
  • Textbooks
  • Reviews
  • Biographies

Image source: Diary of Sam Kimble

Search for Primary Sources in OneSearch

Some sources are available in print, DVD, or audio formats through Douglas College Library OneSearch (note: these sources will be reprints of original documents):

Start with a KEYWORD search on your topic and combine it with these helpful primary sources limiters to help find primary sources:

  • Correspondence
  • Letters
  • Personal narratives
  • Interviews
  • Diaries
  • Speeches
  • Autobiography


EXAMPLE: "Korean War" AND "Personal narratives"

To find video or audio sources you can select Video & Audio from the Limit To options: