Answered By: Desk Reference
Last Updated: Aug 27, 2020

Primary sources are documents or objects that were created at the time you're studying. They're useful for showing how things were, or how they were perceived, at a certain moment in time. This can mean different things for different fields of study.

Historical Study

Fields like History, Literature, Religious Studies, Classics, and others may use primary sources as documentation of historical events, or to demonstrate what life was like at a certain period in time. Things like old newspaper articles, photographs, diaries, letters, old public records, and more are considered primary sources in history.

Original Works

When studying a creative work, like a painting, sculpture, novel, etc., the work itself is generally considered a primary source. In fields like Literature, Theatre, Art History, Architecture, Music, and others, the original work you're studying will be the primary source.

Raw Data

The social science fields, like Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Education, and others, often treat the uninterpreted, raw data as primary source material. This may include numerical data generated through surveys, censuses, consumer or market activity, or other sources, or raw textual information, like interview transcripts, observational or field notes, etc.

Scientific Articles/Reports

In the science disciplines, like Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Science, Medicine, and others, published information that reports on the methods and results of experiments or observations are usually treated as primary sources. This may include peer-reviewed, academic journal articles, pre-published reports of an original research study's findings, or the results of clinical trials. 

Primary sources are different from secondary sources, that use evidence from primary sources, or other secondary sources, to draw conclusions about a certain topic. This may take the form of a research article, literature review, book, or book chapter, among others.

The UW Archives has primary sources related to the university, the surrounding community, and other groups or individuals that you may find useful. Also, the library has published collections of primary source documents that you can borrow. Find out more about locating primary sources in the library here:

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