What is a primary source?
Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs). They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary sources can include memoirs, diaries, correspondence, interviews, photographs, newspaper or magazine articles, film footage, news broadcasts, official documents, speeches, maps, artifacts, and works of fiction or drama.
A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. Secondary sources are often based on primary sources.
What constitutes a primary source depends entirely on the subject of research. For example, John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage would be a secondary source in a study of John Quincy Adams or Sam Houston, but it could serve as a primary source if the topic of study were Kennedy himself.
Primary sources are available in many forms, so there is no one method for searching them out. There are, however, some general guidelines for getting started.
In order to use a primary source effectively, you have to know some things about it! These are a few questions to ask about any primary source you are considering using for your research.