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Are primary sources different in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences?

Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. They present original thinking, report a discovery, or share new information.  However, the types of information that can be considered a primary source depends on the topic, subject, and discipline you are researching.  Below are examples of what is considered primary research in each discipline.  Keep in mind that what constitutes a primary or secondary source depends on the context in which it is being used.  In addition, how you are using the material in your paper or project can effect this determination.


In the humanities field, primary sources are original records created at the time historical events occurred.  See the History Research Portal for tips on how to find primary sources in these disciplines.

Examples include: Letters, manuscripts, diaries, rare books, historical photographs, first-hand accounts, or documentary sources on a subject, person, event or issue; newspapers written at the time of an event, song, or film from time period, historical maps, government reports or data, and more.

Social Sciences:

In the social sciences field, primary sources:

  • are written documents, sound recordings, artifacts, or any material that was created during the time period being studied
  • have not been analyzed, critiqued or interpreted by anyone else
  • are original, first-hand, raw material, which come directly from the author or maker.

Examples include: Journal articles of original research (written by person who did the research), interviews, correspondences (including letters), diaries, court cases, government documents, laws and legislation, and speeches.


In the science fields, primary sources are original materials or information on which other research is based. Primary sources are also sets of data, such as health statistics, which have been tabulated, but not interpreted.

Examples include: Journal articles of original research (written by person who did the research), patents, conference papers, dissertations, technical reports, or something personal like Einstein’s diary).

Answered by: Amanda Kalish CSUSM | Last updated on: May 23, 2022 | Views: Views: 1

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