Primary Sources


Welcome to St. Mary's College of California's Research Guide to Primary Sources!

This guide will help you understand what exactly primary sources are, how to locate primary sources, how to use primary sources in your writing, and how to cite primary sources. Bookmark this page and refer back to it while working on your research.

While this guide is extensive, you may have additional questions. At any time, reach out to the Librarians for help.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are produced by participants or direct observers of an issue, event, or time period. These sources may be recorded during the event or later on, by a participant reflecting upon the event. In some cases, it will be difficult to obtain the original source, so you may have to rely on copies (photocopies, microfilm, digital copies). Copies or transcriptions of a primary source still count as a primary source.  

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Newspapers
  • Speeches
  • Government documents
  • Legal documents
  • Personal materials, including letters, diaries, interviews, memoirs, autobiographies, and oral histories
  • Images
  • Works of art (novels, plays, paintings, etc.)


For more information about primary sources visit the University of California Irvine Library's tutorial.

Secondary and Reference Sources

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are be journal articles, magazine articles, or books written later on about your event or period by a historian. Secondary sources interpret, assign value to, conjecture upon, and draw conclusions about the events reported in primary sources. These are usually in the form of published works such as journal articles or books, but may include radio or television documentaries, or conference proceedings.

Reference Sources

Reference sources help you first get background information on your topic. Typically, reference sources would not be considered scholarly or academic sources.

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