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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.