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HIST 131 - United States History I

Source types defined

Determining what kind of source you're dealing with can be challenging, but all fields of research use multiple types. Here are some basic definitions to help you better understand the differences. Also each page of this guide provides some examples available to you for your research.

  • Primary Sources: These are research materials that are straight from the source (primary). These are what you directly analyze in your own research. Basically, they provide the direct evidence for your research. Examples include letters, speeches, poems, photographs, scientific data, maps, Tweets, novels, newspaper articles, and anything else that you analyze as part of your research. Even things that might be secondary sources under other circumstances can be treated as primary sources if you analyze them as part of your research. For example, you could analyze scientific research articles (usually secondary sources) from the 1800s to look for evidence of racial or gender bias.
  • Secondary Sources: These are the written or presented results of analysis (usually of primary sources). These take the form of scholarly journal articles, nonfiction books, conference papers or posters, magazine articles, and other forms of summarizing or reporting on original research.
  • Tertiary Sources: These compile information into one browse-able source. The most common are dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, and almanacs. These sources present summarized, organized information.

Chicago-style citation help

For easy access to help building your Chicago-style citations, please consult our CMU research guide or the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) site.

Most databases include an option to copy and paste pre-made citations for scholarly journal articles. Always double check them against the citation style guide to be sure that there are no mistakes (they happen).

I'm also available to answer questions about specific citations. Citing primary sources can be particularly tricky.