Skip to main content

Primary Sources - History: General Research Guide: Research Tips

This guide is for students seeking original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories.

Further reading

Books discussing history research and writing can be found in the D13-D16 call number range.  Several of these are written for students and cover finding and using primary sources. A search in GIL-Find for Historical Research - Methodology provides a number of resources.

Advanced Tips for Primary Sources

Format impacts what you can glean from a source,
and possibly your ability to utilize it.

Professional historians often travel to use archival sources in their original format and language.  This usually isn't practical for students, but bear these things in mind.

Original manuscripts may contain handwritten notes in the margins (or other useful info) that a published copy lacks.

Edited and translated works are subject to possible errors and biases of editors and translators.

Digital copies need particular scrutiny. They may contain transcription errors, may not reliably represent the original source, or may be of dubious origin (incomplete citation).  After all, anyone can post something online.

Context is key

Some sources may be primary or secondary;
it depends on your research topic.

Primary Sources exist in different formats


    Thomas Jefferson's correspondence exists in:
  • original manuscript format
  • published print collections
      Either may be reproduced:

  • on microfilm
  • digitally

You may find these in library catalogs, bibliographies, footnotes, primary source databases, library/archive websites, and Google.