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Research Guides

Primary vs. Secondary Sources: Finding Primary Sources

How to differentiate among primary, secondary, and tertiary sources in the research process, and tips on finding primary sources.

Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources can be found collected in books, in library databases, or elsewhere online. This page will help you find:

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The following are examples of primary source material:

  • Letters
  • Manuscripts
  • Literary works
  • Diaries or journals
  • Newspapers
  • Speeches
  • Interviews
  • Memoirs
  • Government documents
  • Photographs
  • Audio/video recordings
  • Original scientific research reports
  • Research data
  • Objects or artifacts

Primary Sources in Books

You can often find primary sources collected into books. Search the Library Catalog to see what our library has, WorldCat to find books you can request from other libraries, or Google Books.

To find primary sources, try a Keyword search that combines the name of a person, group, or event with words such as: memoirs, diaries, correspondence, papers, personal narratives, or sources. For example:

  • George Washington and correspondence
  • Civil War and letters
  • Indians and treaties
  • Crusades and sources
  • Franz Kafka and diaries

Search Library Catalog

Library Catalog

Use this box to search the Geisel Library catalog for books and other materials in the library collection.

Search WorldCat

Search Google Books

Google has digitized millions of books and made them accessible through their search engine. Books not under copyright (including most published before 1922) can be read in their entirety, making this website a great resource for primary source material from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Use the Advanced Search to limit your results to "full view only".

Google Book Search

Primary Source Databases

Primary Sources Elsewhere Online

Use a search engine like Google when researching a narrow topic or trying to locate a specific document.

  • Use specific rather than broad terms for better results.
  • Combine keywords representing your subject with keywords such as "letters", "diaries", or "government documents"
  • Be sure to evaluate whether the website seems reliable and authoritative; for help with this, see our Guide to Evaluating Websites.

Other starting points: