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What is a primary source?

Last Updated: Aug 10, 2012  |  184 Views

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Determining which kinds of documents constitute a primary source depends upon the topic you’re researching.

Primary sources are the first hand evidence left behind by participants or observers at the time of events. 

Institutional records:  Examples are: financial records, reports, meeting minutes, emails, memos, publicity materials, and internal publications like newsletters.

Mass Media:  Examples are: newspaper and magazine articles, published photographs, recordings of television and radio broadcasts, sheet music and music recorded for mass distribution, advertisements, books, and magazines.

The definition of a primary source varies depending upon the academic discipline and the context in which it is used.

  • In the humanities, a primary source could be defined as something that was created either during the time period being studied or afterward by individuals reflecting on their involvement in the events of that time (ex: a novel, an original piece of art, a musical score, etc.).
  • In the social sciences (education, nursing, psychology, social work, etc.), the definition of a primary source includes numerical data that has been gathered to analyze relationships between people, events, and their environment.  It is a quantitative or qualitative research study that describes an experiment or study and its outcome on a specific population.
  • In the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics etc.), a primary source could be defined as a report of original findings or ideas. These sources often appear in the form of research articles with sections on methods and results which describes an experiment or observation performed by the authors.

Answered by Paula TobianskiBookmark and Share

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