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College Writing: Official Guide

Explore Primary Sources

Beyonce walking in front of projected word "Feminist."

What do I want to learn more about?

First, determine what you want to know from working with a primary source.
For example: I'm interested in examining how feminism is portrayed in popular culture.

Consider various types of primary sources

Think about different performances, movies, interviews or other things you've seen, listened to, or experienced. 

For example: Beyonce's VMA performance; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk; Contemporary Women Artists
Use secondary sources to find primary sources
Brainstorm articles or books you have read recently that analyze primary source materials.
For example: This Ms. Magazine list describes "feminist moments" in pop culture in 2016:

Locating Source Material

What other primary source types could you consult?

The information primary sources contain is original and has not been rewritten or reinterpreted by someone else. 

Original documents: records, files, reports, maps, first-hand accounts of events, interviews, letters, personal journals, diaries, videos/sound recordings, original research including scientific data, opinion polls, government documents, social media posts

Creative worksmemoirs, photos, films, poetry, drama, novels, art work, gardens, code, advertisements, GIFs

Relics, artifacts: jewelry, pottery, furniture, clothing, tools, architecture/buildings

Secondary Sources

Often produced sometime after an event has occurred, interpret, analyze, and comment on primary sources.

  • Books

  • Interpretive articles from journals, magazines, newspapers

  • Reviews

A source can be primary or secondary depending on how it is being used. Often newspapers are considered secondary sources as journalists report, analyze, and interpret events and the experience of others. Newspapers can also be used as primary sources. If you are researching how American attitudes on welfare spending have changed during the past twenty years, newspaper editorials can serve as primary sources of public opinion.

Librarians and your instructor can help you identify primary and secondary sources for your projects.

Special Collections at WU