How can I find primary sources?


Primary sources are original items or research.

In the sciences, primary sources are typically new studies sharing original research. In the humanities, primary sources often reflect a snapshot of life or work being done at the time in which they were written (or someone looking back on an event for which they were present e.g. in a memoir or oral history).

Secondary sources cover someone else’s work.


In the humanities, primary sources include items such as as diaries, photographs, advertising, original literature, and clothing. In contrast, secondary sources reflect, collect, or analyze primary sources, for example, an article that analyzes a work of poetry or a history text written by someone not present during the time period or event.

For example, this History guide provides a list of databases at the library that feature or include primary source materials. See other tabs in the guide for additional information on recognizing, finding, and using primary sources.


In the sciences, primary sources include lab notes, interviews, and journal articles reporting new research. Most scholarly articles in the sciences are by scientists sharing their new research first-hand and would be considered primary sources. In contrast, secondary sources are written by authors not associated with the original research (second-hand), for example, a systematic review article that discusses the new research or a journalist summarizing the new study for the general public.

Web of Science is a good database to try when looking for articles in the sciences. 


We have many databases in the library. Search or browse our databases here:  Skim the brief descriptions to see which ones might be good to try for your research.

If you’d like assistance with finding primary sources in a particular subject area, please stop by the reference desk. You can also contact the subject specialist librarian assigned to that topic area.

  • Last Updated Oct 17, 2017
  • Views 56
  • Answered By Teal Smith

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