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San Francisco State University
Guide to researching primary sources at the San Francisco State University Library, including historical magazines & newspapers, online primary sources, primary sources in books, and primary sources in libraries & archives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Last Updated: Apr 27, 2015 URL: http://libguides.sfsu.edu/primary Print Guide RSS Updates

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Secondary Sources


Citation Help


General Search Tips

  • Remember to think about both the TOPICS that you are researching as well as the TYPES OF PRIMARY SOURCES that you would expect to contain information about your topics (for example, if you were interested in childbirth practices in 18th century Europe, what types of sources from that period might have that kind of data?).  Sometimes you can find better results if you look for a particular type of source (for example, 18th century medical texts) than keyword searching on your specific topic (eg "childbirth practices").

  • When reading articles and books related to your topic, pay close attention to FOOTNOTES/CITATIONS. You can use this information to track down the primary source material that the author used.

  • ASK your professors and librarians FOR HELP in determining what kinds of primary sources are available or suitable for your research.

Definitions: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A PRIMARY SOURCE is generally defined as some kind of original material or data. Depending on your research topic and perspective, primary sources can include diaries and letters, interviews, speeches, business or organizational records, eyewitness accounts, photographs, video or film, government documents, newspapers or magazines, or even books.

A SECONDARY SOURCE is generally defined as something that analyzes, interprets, or comments on a primary source. In history, the key secondary sources that you need to find are research books and research journal articles.


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