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New York Tech Returns: What to know about using NYIT Libraries for Summer 2021. View the latest information

Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources: Primary

This guide intends to clarify and differentiate three types of research sources, helping users discern and select academic-quality sources of information.

Is a source PRIMARY?

IDENTIFYING a primary source can be challenging. FINDING primary sources can be difficult, though the Web has made doing this considerably easier. This section intends to make both tasks easier.

PRIMARY sources are original sources. For example, Darwin's notes and sketches (leading to his writing The Origin of Species) are primary sources. 

Google Scholar

Use Google Scholar to find academic-quality information (articles, papers, reports) on the Web.

Google Scholar Search

Primary Sources: A Closer Look



Primary sources contain original information UNFILTERED by analysis or interpretation.

Examples of Primary Sources: A Partial List

1.   Artifacts: Tools, fossils, period clothing, animal/specimens, machines, etc.
2.   Audio recordings: White House tapes, a taped interview, radio show or speech, etc.
3.   Diaries, notebooks, sketch pads
4.   E-mail or text messages
5.   Interviews
: In-person, by telephone, by e-mail, by live chat, by text, etc.

6.   Peer-reviewed journal articles reporting original research
7.   Personal letters
8.   Historical newspaper articles written at the time being studied
9.   Original official documents
: Birth and death certificates, wills, trial transcripts, etc.
10. Photographs

11. Proceedings of meetings, conferences, etc.
12. Government treaties, laws, constitutions, bills, acts, etc.
13. Speeches (taped or live)
14. Surveys, polls, or census results (raw data)
15. Television programs, movies, computer games, etc.

16. Websites (the sites, themselves; not necessarily their content) 
17. Raw data websites: NASA, USGS, etc.
18. Blogs and vlogs
19. Works of art, architecture, literature and music


On the Web:

In many cases, accessing historical primary sources (and often more current ones) has been made considerably easier by the Internet.

EXAMPLE:  Entering ben franklin letters in a Web search engine will produce numerous websites providing primary source documents (Franklin's letters) in full text.

Generally, entering a historical NAME + FORMAT (e.g., ben franklin letters) in a Web search engine can often produce a good number of primary source documents.

EXAMPLE 2:  Searching darwin notebooks produces a number of primary source documents authored by this famous naturalist. Other formats or types: diaries, sketchbooks, notes, drafts, letters, correspondence, etc.

In Professional Journals:

Peer-reviewed, scholary journals often publish the results of original research. Many databases, including ProQuest Central and Academic Search Complete, offer users the ability to limit search results to peer-reviewed journal articles, many of which report original research, making them primary source documents. Find a complete list of the Library's journal and reference databases HERE.

In the NYIT Library's Online Catalog (books, media, etc.)

In the NYIT online catalog Bearcat, a keyword search on the word diary (or sketches, letters, etc.) provides a number of primary source results in the Library collection, results such as...

EXAMPLE: A Surgeon's Civil War:  The Letters and Diary of Daniel M. Holt. This is an e-book (electronic book), readable online. Other formats or types to search: diaries, sketchbooks, notes, drafts, letters, correspondence, etc.

This surgeon's diary, with entries written as he experienced daily the horrors of the Civil War, is a good example of a primary source.


Eduardo Rivera's picture
Eduardo Rivera
Wisser Library
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New York Institute of Technology
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Room 100A
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