How to find primary source documents

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How to find primary source documents
How to find primary source documents

When you do research, your research typically relies on "secondary" and "tertiary" sources. There are compositions and reinterpretations of other original sources that are called “primary” sources. These secondary and tertiary sources are usually sufficient and sometimes even mandatory. However, in some areas and research topics, it is preferable and sometimes necessary to consult primary sources. For example, in comparative studies and representational studies of specific themes and concepts, this article will help you find and extract the original primary source from your secondary and tertiary sources.


Method 1 of 2: Extract Information from Your Primary Source

DIY Step 3
DIY Step 3

Step 1. Prepare yourself

Select a way to take notes.

Choose a Good Book Step 2
Choose a Good Book Step 2

Step 2. Rank your secondary and tertiary sources according to their importance

Separate secondary sources from tertiary sources.

Keep up to Date With Coursework Step 11
Keep up to Date With Coursework Step 11

Step 3. Create a section in your notes for each source

For example, make a card with the name of the source, and their information. Leave a space to fill it in with information about your main sources.

Become a College Professor Step 17
Become a College Professor Step 17

Step 4. Review your secondary and tertiary sources

For each one, extract as much information as you can from the primary sources used in the secondary / tertiary sources and write them down. Specifications will differ depending on the type of secondary tertiary sources. But generally the information can be found this way:

  1. Search the bibliography, references, and source sections in books, encyclopedias, and other research articles. Usually the primary sources and citation sources are mentioned there. All you have to do is separate the citation sources from the general ones.
  2. Look in the titles or subtitles of interpretation, explanation and guides of books and paper material. Usually a book about XYZ will have "XYZ" somewhere in the title. Look for this source in the bibliographic or reference section.
  3. Look in the body of the article for mentions of a primary source in the case of magazines, newspapers, brochures or websites. These types of secondary or tertiary sources are the most difficult. In many cases, you won't find the source immediately and will have to dig deeper. Sometimes the source is not mentioned at all, in these cases you will have to try the following:

    1. Obtain the primary source of the author of the article in question:

      1. From the publication, extract the name and contact information of the author (if possible).

        • If it was not possible to obtain the contact information for the article's author, look up the author in the directory or online. Most authors have websites where you will find their contact information.
        • If you can't find the author's contact information, follow the steps in the second method to get the main source, outlined below.
      2. Contact the author asking for the main sources. Use one communication method at a time, so the person doesn't think you're a fan.
      3. Discard secondary and tertiary sources. If you do not cite the sources, the text is unverifiable.
      4. Get the main sources from the company, organization or institute that published it:

        1. Get the contact information for the publisher of the post.

          Use the services of a directory or look it up online if the contact information is not explicit

        2. Contact the company asking for the primary sources for the article. Mention the title, issue, volume, and other identifying information about the article.
        3. You can use the latter method (get sources from the publisher) in other cases, such as encyclopedias and other collective works.

          Get a Book Idea Step 13
          Get a Book Idea Step 13

          Step 5. Prepare a structured list of primary sources you need to find from the information you collected

          You can use a spreadsheet or a handy list. You must fill in the following fields for each source:

          1. Qualification. The title of the source.
          2. Guy. What is the type of source documents? They are usually:

            • Works of art, architecture, literature or music
            • Magazines, newspapers or an article included in these.
            • Journal, or the entry in a journal or magazine.
            • Letters
            • Minutes (of meetings, conferences or symposia)
            • Recordings from organizations, government or agencies, such as:

              • Annual reports
              • Treaties
              • Statutes of law
              • Decrees
              • Memorandums
              • Regulations
            • Patents
            • Original documents such as:

              • Birth certificates
              • Wills
              • Marriage licenses
              • Trial transcripts
            • Websites
            • Internet communication such as emails etc.
            • Investigations through surveys
            • Interviews (oral, by phone, or email)
            • Speeches
          3. Time it was published, aired and circulated (be precise)
          4. Serial number / ISBN (if applicable).
          5. Volume, edition, page, and column (if applicable).
          6. Edition (if applicable).
          7. Editor, author.

            Become a College Professor Step 28
            Become a College Professor Step 28

            Step 6. Sort the list by document type

            Method 2 of 2: Get the primary sources (or copies of them)

            Invest Small Amounts of Money Wisely Step 11
            Invest Small Amounts of Money Wisely Step 11

            Step 1. Start by retrieving the fonts that can be retrieved online

            Such as websites, internet communication, governance and organizational documents, manufacturer specifications, periodicals and works of art.

            • Make sure you get the source from the original creator, maker, writer, artist, publisher of the website.
            • Some places where you can find sources online:

              • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
              • U. S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
              • Google Scholar Search
              • Google Patents Search
              • The Internet Archive
              • Project Gutenberg, a producer of free e-books
              • Wikisource, a source document store
            Plan For a Successful Future Step 1
            Plan For a Successful Future Step 1

            Step 2. Start browsing libraries to find the rest of the sources

            • Regular libraries do not have primary source documents. University libraries and the Library of Congress usually include them.
            • Visit online databases. Many libraries subscribe to their databases that you can use to view essays or even the full text of articles.
            Persuade Your Parents to Do Something Step 4
            Persuade Your Parents to Do Something Step 4

            Step 3. Compile a list of the sources you couldn't get using the first few steps

            Contact your school, university, or public library. Any of these can help you.

            Present an Oral Argument Step 6
            Present an Oral Argument Step 6

            Step 4. Compile a list of citations from some source that you have not been able to obtain

            Start by communicating your request for the sources to the entries in this list, asking for information on how to obtain them.

            Get a Masters of Library Science (MLS) Degree Online Step 4
            Get a Masters of Library Science (MLS) Degree Online Step 4

            Step 5. Use WorldCat to see if you can get the rest of the sources from other nearby libraries, or just ask for them as an interlibrary loan

            All libraries can obtain books, articles, and sometimes copies from a primary source, usually these are delivered to your local library.


            • When you contact an organization asking for sources or contact information, specify the reason for your request and how you obtained their address.
            • Make sure you have understood the difference between primary source and secondary and tertiary sources.


            • Do not use primary sources in your research unless requested. Some research prohibits the use of primary sources.
            • Don't list a primary source unless you are sure it is. Sometimes the distinction can be tricky and can cause your research to be discredited.

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