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Primary & Secondary Sources: Home

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


What is a Primary Source? - Primary sources are records that provide first-hand testimony or evidence of an event, action, topic, or time period. Primary sources can vary depending on the subject.

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.

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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