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Primary Sources: Using Primary Source Material

This guide will discuss the difference between primary and secondary resources for use in research.

Using Primary Source Material

This tab lists things to be considered when finding and using Primary Source Materials. Links to citation guides are given in a box below.

Possible Obstacles To Be Overcome in Using


  • Depending on the age of a document, the script, font, or language may be difficult to decipher.
  • Communication norms of different time periods or location must be considered.
  • The technology needed to read or observe an item may be a barrier.
  • Realize that there may be gaps in available sources (war, storms, age and fragility of material, intentional destruction)

Things to Consider When Using A Primary Source

  • Use in a manner that respects the privacy rights of others.
  • Use in a manner that respects cultural contexts.
  • Adhere to copyright and privacy laws when incorporating primary source information in a research or creative project.
  • Cite according to appropriate citation style guidelines

Citing a Primary Source

National Archives of the United States

  • A good source for knowing how to cite unusual primary sources

Library of Congress

  • Provides teachers resource pages that list various types of resources and clearly shows how to cite them in Chicago, APA, and MLA.

Using Images

  • Gives in-depth information and links to websites which give direction on the legal use of image

Britannica ImageQuest

  • Provides rights-cleared images from around the world

Evaluating a Primary Source

  • Consider the perspective of the creator of the source (tone, subjectivity, biases, original audience)..
  • Situate a source in the time and culture in which it was created