Skip to main content

ENGL 100 Valenzuela: What are Primary Sources?

Primary Sources Presentation

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence on a subject.  They are created by someone who experienced the period or event first hand.  Because they are eye-witness accounts, many primary sources are created at the time the event occured, but recorded memories -- such as autobiographies, memories, and oral histories -- are also considered primary sources.
For more examples see What are Primary Sources (Yale University)

Evaluating Primary Sources

When evaluating primary sources, ask yourself these questions:

  • How does the author know these details (names, dates, times)? Was the author present at the event or soon on the scene?
  • Where does this information come from—personal experience, eyewitness accounts, or reports written by others? Does the author have any potential bias?
  • Are the author's conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, or have many sources been taken into account (e.g., diary entries, along with third-party eyewitness accounts, impressions of contemporaries, newspaper accounts)?
  • For statistics and original research, what is the sample population of the study (who is being studied, how many people, etc.)? What methods did the researchers use to gather their data?

From: UCSC University Library, Distinguish Between Primary and Secondary Sources and SUNY Empire State College Library, How To Evaluate Bad Statistics and Research Methods.