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Primary resources consist of original sources of informationcreated during the time period being studied or at a later date by a participant in the events being studied.  They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer and include:

  • diaries, journals, witnesses, interviews (first person accounts)
  • government documents (census info, tax records, raw statistics)
  • films, poems, novels, short stories (when they are the subject of your essay)
  • photographs

Secondary resources consist of information produced using primary resources; they interpret or analyze primary resources and include:

  • history books
  • encyclopedias
  • essays and articles written about an event by someone who was not present
  • biographies
  • newspapers
  • films, poems, novels, short stories


Activity and Handouts: ARC Guide for Educators National Archives materials includes
Document Analysis Worksheets

Rubric: Analyzing a Primary Source

Rubric: Primary Source Analysis Fayetteville State University

Worksheets: Using Primary Resources WI Historical Society

Try These First

To locate primary documents related to American history, try these sites first:

Primary Document Resources on the Web

Databases at UW-Stout Library

Stout Users Only The University Library subscribes to several databases which include primary resources:

These are specialized databases which include primary resources:


  • Allow time!  You may need to identify a major resource and sift through a great deal of text to identify useful information.
  • Be patient and persistent!  There may be several steps in your research--identifying an appropriate collection, then using different search methods to view materials, and selecting appropriate content.
  • Ask questions!  Primary documents need to be interpreted.  Use How to Read Primary Documents
  • Cite materials properly!  Use the Citing Primary Resources page for examples of citations in MLA and APA formats.

Subject Guide

Jessy Polzer
Robert S. Swanson Library Learning Center
Office 109
315 Tenth Ave.
Menomonie, WI 54751
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