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Political Science

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, clinical reports and oral histories recorded later. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, or some other published format.

Image source:

level of origin graphic defining primary, secondary and tertiary sources

Types of Primary Sources

Image source:

Chart shows 3 main categories and examples of primary sources

Wheel of Sources

Key Terms from the Video

  • Empirical Study: An empirical study is a type of research that uses empirical evidence, meaing that the research is conducted using direct or indirect observation for its findings. This is in contrast to non-empirical studies, which do not involve direct or indirect observation and analyze pre-existing phenomena or materials for their findings.
  • Meta-Analysis: A meta-analysis, like a review article, analyzes and evaluates the results of multiple scientific studies.
  • Primary Sources in the Humanities: Provide a firsthand account of a research topic.
  • Primary Sources in the Sciences: Contain original research.
  • Primary and Secondary Sources in the Social Sciences: In the social sciences, primary and secondary source definitions vary based on the type of method and theoretical approach of the specific discipline. Either the humanities or the sciences definitions may apply.
  • Review Article: A review article summarizes the current state of understanding on a given topic, by providing a broad overview of published research articles on that topic. A review article does not introduce original research findings.
  • Secondary Sources in the Humanities: Interpret, summarize, or critique the original information.
  • Secondary Sources in the Sciences: Summarize, analyze, or review other primary research papers, but do not contain original research.
  • Tertiary Sources: Tertiary sources provide overviews, summaries, or indexes of both primary and secondary source materials. Examples include encyclopedias and dictionaries.

Video Source: Kian Ravaei and Doug Worsham from the University of California, Los Angeles 

Library Databases

Primary Source Websites

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 Rockhurst University Library · 1100 Rockhurst Road · Kansas City, MO 64110 · 816-501-4116