Dissertation Research Help: Finding and Using Primary Sources
What is a Primary Source?
The Yale University Library provides the following definition of primary sources:
“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, and oral histories recorded later.”
A primary source, then, is any kind of first-hand documentation. If you are writing a historical dissertation, a primary source could be a paper document created by someone in the past – old letters, diaries, journals, logbooks, etc. If you are writing a literature dissertation, your primary sources might be poems, novels, or plays. For a dissertation in the social sciences, your primary sources could include responses that people provide to surveys and questionnaires. For a dissertation in the hard sciences, your primary sources may be data from experiments or studies. Other kinds of primary sources might include newspaper or magazine articles, maps and artifacts, sound recordings or film, government documents, or interviews. A dissertation advisor or a dissertation consultant can help you discern what kinds of primary sources are appropriate to your dissertation project and discipline. What all of the different kinds of primary sources have in common is that they are raw data that dissertation writers like you can analyze and interpret.
How do I Find Primary Sources?
You can find some kinds of primary sources in online databases. If your institution's library subscribes to resources like ProQuest, you can search that database for newspaper and magazine articles. If you don't have access to subscription-based databases, Google News provides free access to back issues of many periodicals.
You can find hard copies of primary sources in libraries. Most libraries provide access to hard copies of newspapers and periodicals. Some also have recordings of oral history interviews, or archival collections that include government documents, letters, diaries, etc. Many libraries post listings or catalogs of their archival collections online. You can, for instance, search the Library of Congress' archival collection using their online catalog; or you can search the Online Archive of California website to look for primary sources at different institutions across California. Your institution's library website may have a similar resource. You can also find primary sources in books: look for collections of interviews, or for anthologies of historical primary sources. You should also talk to librarians about what primary sources are available to you! Librarians can be a vital source of dissertation help.
In social sciences and hard sciences, you may end up creating your own primary sources: when you conduct interviews, oral histories, experiments, and studies, you are finding the primary sources that you will use in your dissertation. A dissertation consultant can help you tailor your study so that you can generate the best primary sources for your project.
How can Primary Sources Help My Dissertation?
In your dissertation, one of your jobs is to analyze primary sources. To put this another way: your dissertation will tell readers what your primary sources mean and why they are important. If you find primary sources that few (or no) other scholars have analyzed, you'll be able to make a valuable contribution to your discipline. Alternatively, if you can take primary sources that other scholars have used, but interpret them in a way that is new and original, your dissertation can be innovative and exciting to other scholars in your field. Using primary sources can thus help you make your mark as a scholar – and stand out in the academic job market.
Thesis Editor is here to help you with your primary source research. Our dissertation consultants provide PhD-level research services and statistical analysis that can help you find and analyze primary sources and make your dissertation stand out from the crowd. And when the time comes to file your dissertation, you'll want to make sure that all of your primary sources are cited correctly. Our dissertation formatting experts are here to make sure that all of your citations adhere to APA Style, Chicago/Turabian Style, MLA Style, Harvard Bluebook, or any other major citation style. < Self-Care During COVID-19 EndNote: An Introduction >
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