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College Writing: Dreams & Nightmares

Getting Started Working with Primary Sources

Explore Primary Sources

Primary Sources provide direct or first hand evidence. This may be about an event, object, or person; work of art or literature; or findings from original research. The information primary sources contain is original and has not been rewritten or reinterpreted by someone else. 

    Examples of Primary Sources:

  • Newspaper reports, by reporters who witnessed an event or who quote people who did.
  • Speeches, diaries, letters and interviews - what the people involved said or wrote.
  • Original research.
  • Datasets, survey data, such as census or economic statistics.
  • Texts of laws, legislative hearings, and other government documents.
  • Original works of art, paintings, sculpture, building, poems, or literature
  • Performances, singing, dance, theatrical 
  • Photographs, video, or audio that capture an event.
  • Plant and animal specimens
  • Coins, jewelry, pottery, clothing, furniture 

Examples of Primary Sources by Subject Discipline:

Discipline Primary Source    
Art   Original artwork, e.g. Michelangelo's David  
Business   Annual report of a company, e.g. Starbucks  
History   Diary, e.g. the diary of Marie Curie, Anne Frank  
Literature   Poems, short fiction, or book of literature, e.g. Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou  
Political Science   A bill that is passed into law, e.g. Equal Rights Amendment   
Sciences   Report of an experiment, e.g. an article analyzing the effects of gravity on ocean waves  

Social or Behavioral Sciences

  An article reporting the findings of original research, e.g. an article on student's confidence and academic success     
Theater   A video recording of a theater performance, e.g. Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera  



Locating Primary Source Material