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Finding Primary & Secondary Sources: Guide Home

Use this guide to better understand the difference between a primary and secondary source and to locate sources for your subject.


Use the links below to learn the difference between a primary source and secondary source. Primary sources can vary depending on the subject.  Use the links in the "search by subject" box (below) to find sources. 

 What is a Primary Source? - Primary sources are records that provide first-hand testimony or evidence of an event, action, topic, or time period.  What is a Secondary Source? - Secondary sources put primary sources in context. They summarize, interpret, analyze, or comment on  information found in primary sources.



Letter from King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). Courtesy, L.Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library,
Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602.

Finding Primary and Secondary Sources by Subject

Search for PRIMARY Sources by Subject
  • Diversity in Education - Primary sources for African-Americans, American-Indians, Latinos & women's rights issues.
  • Drug Literature Evaluation - Primary source (clinical trials, experiments, scientific discoveries) and secondary sources (reviews and interpretations of primary sources) from PubMed and Cochrane Library.
  • History - Primary sources for United States History, Civil War, U.S. West History, European, Middle Eastern & East Asian history.               
  • Literature - Links to original works on Project Gutenberg, Early English Books Online (EEBO), American Poets, British Periodicals and more...
  • Native American Indian Studies - Digital collections containing narratives, letters, treaties, census rolls etc.and also more government information on paper & Microfilm.
  • Life Sciences - Primary source documents in the Sciences (biology, ecology, chemistry) focus on original research, ideas, or findings published in academic journals. These articles mark the first publication of such research; and they detail the researcher’s methodology and results. Plant or mineral samples and other artifacts are primary sources as well.
  • Engineering - design notes, patents, conference proceedings, technical reports, and field surveys.
  • Women & Gender-studies - Links to primary sources such as letters & diaries about women's rights and gender issues.

Use the UW Catalog to Find Sources

Use the Catalog Search option on the UW Libraries homepage to find primary sources about a person or event. Search using some of the keywords that describe your subject in combination with one or more of the following terms:

  personal narratives    manuscripts   indexes
letters       archives bibliography
correspondence records catalogs
diaries documents guides
memoirs  sources thesis
travelers  papers of ...   travelers' writings 


Example: immigrants and (letters or correspondence or diaries)

Search Tips:

“And” narrows your results.

“Or” is more and is used primarily with synonyms or related terms. Best to put “or” terms in parentheses.

Truncation: A search term can be shortened by using a * as a truncation symbol. This allows one search to retrieve singular or plural forms, different spellings of a word or name, or different forms of a word. However, this may widen your search too much so use it carefully.

For example: travel* will retrieve: travel, travels, traveler, traveller, travelers, travellers, traveling, traveled

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This LibGuide was created by Shari Salisbury a Librarian at University of Texas at San Antonio. Other users of LibGuides are welcome to use this Guide as a template and to make changes as necessary to fit their custom needs.

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