What is a Primary Source?


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Primary Sources


When doing research, it’s important to focus on primary sources, which is documentation closest to the subject being studied. Some examples of primary sources or things like photographs, recordings, or accounts of people who saw it in person. You see here, if we were studying the subject of penguins, then some primary sources would be photographs and recordings of penguins and accounts of people who have studied penguins in person.


If I was doing research, this is what I would want to focus on. There are secondary sources, which would be things like a review of a movie about penguins, or a book outlining observations of others. Notice here that a movie about penguins is a primary source and the observations of others is a primary source, but here you have a review of the movie or a book outlining the observations of others.


Here you have a source about another source, and that’s why it’s a secondary source. In research, that’s what researchers should stay away from. There are a couple of things that researchers should look out for when looking for a primary source. They should make sure that what they are looking up is credible and recent. The second criteria right here, “recent,” only matters if the subject is still alive today or still going on.


If it was research about Abraham Lincoln, it wouldn’t matter if it was recent, because we’re not really discovering anything new about him. His life is already over. If it was something about the government of Italy, then it would need to be recent, because the government of Italy is changing, because it’s still existing. That’s why it’s important that it be recent. It’s also important that it be credible, so that you know it’s true.


A great place for primary sources is the Internet. In the past, researchers stayed away from the Internet because it wasn’t a credible source. Now, some information on the Internet is credible. The best place to look for primary sources is to look for sources affiliated with established institutions, such as universities, public libraries, and think tanks.


If there’s a website that’s not affiliated with an established institution, see if there are links to that website from established institutions. If a university had a link to that website, then that website is probably credible. Look to see if there’s information about the author of that web page.


Many times the author will include any credentials, any education or experience they might have, which increases the credibility of that person. Overall, when doing research, it’s important to look for primary sources. It’s important that those primary sources are both credible and recent.



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Last updated: 07/11/2018

 

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