Primary sources

Definitions (By Discipline)

There are several “definitions” of primary sources. What constitutes a primary source will vary by discipline. How the researcher intends to use the source in his or her work can also determine what is a primary source. The list below will help you to identify primary sources in a variety of disciplines.

Archives and Special Collections

Many original documents and primary sources can be found in archives including Laurier’s Archives. More information.

Business

Primary sources include company filings such as Annual Reports, Financial Statements, Prospectuses, and Proxy Circulars. Other examples of primary sources include Company Conference Call Transcripts (Earnings Call Transcripts) and even Stock Price Data.

Economics

Some examples of primary sources include: historical government documents, census or survey data, historical newspapers or archives.

English

Primary sources include original literary works, such as novels, plays and poems, along with letters, diaries and autobiographies. More information and links to sources.

Government Information

Some examples of primary sources might include: news releases; legislative (government) debates, committee hearing transcripts and submissions; policy documents or reports, researched from direct observation of a situation; Public Accounts, Budgets and other financial reporting documentation; data (and the statistics derived from the data gathering) gathered from or about a specific population

History

Primary sources are materials created at the time of an event and are often written by someone who experienced or witnessed the event. Primary sources can include original documents such as diaries, letters, memoirs, journals, manuscripts, correspondence, personal narratives and newspaper accounts from the time. More information.

Law

Primary sources include Statutes (“Acts” or laws); Regulations; court decisions and rulings; trial transcript and other court documentation.

Music

For a musical work, primary sources can include the composer's autograph, first editions, early editions, scholarly editions and collected editions.

Political Science or the study of Government Policy

Primary sources include census or survey data; interviews; government debates and committee hearing transcripts; government policy documents or reports; government finance documents.

Science

Scientists advance scientific knowledge through the publication of their original research results. Publication of a scientist’s results is known as primary literature. In general, most primary literature follows a pattern containing an abstract, the authors’ names and affiliations, an introduction, a methods/materials section, results, discussion, conclusion and reference list. Most of primary scientific literature comes in the form of a journal article, where each article represents one consistent theme of experimentation and results. Because the methodology is described, primary literature provides the opportunity for others to duplicate, repeat or extend the research protocols. Examples of primary sources include journal papers, conference papers, technical reports and thesis and dissertations. More information on Primary and Secondary Literature in the Sciences.

Where can I find Primary Sources at Laurier?

Secondary Sources

Secondary Source: A secondary source is any source that discusses research that was originally presented somewhere else.

NOTE: Any secondary source can eventually become a primary source with the passage of time, and the intended use. For example, a researcher might look at how the teaching of biology has changed over the years by looking at biology textbooks published during the last century. A biology textbook does not meet the usual definition of a primary source, EXCEPT in the case of this research, it would be.

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