What are sources and how to find them

What are sources and why are they important?

A source is a piece of information that you received that came from any place other than your own knowledge.

The importance of a source comes from the validity it gives your paper or research. If you do not have proper sources and citations, the information you present in your paper may be disregarded as opinion and not research. Properly researching and finding sources will not only strengthen your own argument/thesis/etc. but will also protect yourself from accusations of plagiarism.

What are the different types of sources?

  • Primary Sources:

    • These are sources written/created from the time period. For example, if you are studying Colonial America and its Founding Fathers, you can use a document like the Bill of Rights as a primary source.

      • Other examples of primary sources can include:

        • Diaries & Journals

        • Music & Video

        • Legal documents

  • Secondary Sources:

    • These are sources written/created after the time period that they are talking about. A secondary source typically analyzes primary sources and then inputs the author's opinion or thoughts on the topic. For example, a paper on Nazi Propaganda written in 2020 is a secondary source.

      • Other examples of secondary sources can include:

        • Academic Journals/Papers

        • News Reports & Sources

        • Movies, Documentaries, & Biographies

  • Tertiary Sources:

    • A tertiary source is a source that typically compiles, organizes, and summarizes information from both primary and secondary sources.

      • Other examples of tertiary sources can include:

        • Textbooks

        • Wikipedia

        • Encyclopedias

How to find sources?

Finding sources sounds more difficult than it actually is when it comes to writing. In the subject of history, almost anything can be a source! In today's age of technology, access to sources has become convenient, quick, and efficient. Libraries also possess a great deal of information, and most libraries will have a way to access publications from the internet or request a book to be rented.

Some tips when it comes to source hunting:

  • Make sure you are focusing on the topic you are talking about. You may not need a primary source from Abraham Lincoln if you are writing a paper on Mahatma Gandhi.

  • Read the first and last paragraphs of a chapter

    • By using this method you can find out what the author is trying to tell you in that chapter

    • If the chapter aligns with your subject, then you can read the full chapter to find more information

  • Use databases such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, or Archive.gov (Links below)

    • This will provide access to academic papers, journals, and research

      • Many of these sources will be secondary sources that also have information and references to primary sources that you can find more information on


Google Scholar

National Archives

What makes a source reliable?

A source being reliable is based off many factors. For more information, check out the University of Georgia's infographic on what makes sources reliable, credible, and more. Use the red bar at the top of the infographic to navigate through the information.

For further detailed information, you may also use the University of California, Berkeley's Guide to Evaluating Resources.