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Special Collections

Using Primary Sources in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room


What are primary sources?

The term "primary sources" refers to direct evidence or first-hand accounts related to the topic under consideration.

Some examples of types of material that could be considered as primary sources are:

By contrast, secondary sources provide analysis or interpretation of a topic. Textbooks, encyclopedias and biographies are examples of secondary sources.

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How to locate primary sources

It is usually helpful to do some background reading on your topic before you begin to search for primary sources to support your research. This is a good way in which to identify key events, dates, or people associated with your topic. The Library Guide series may be useful to suggest reference books and other library resources for your area of research or ask a Library staff member or your professor if you need advice as to where to start.

A complete list of archives and manuscripts housed in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room is available on the Internet.

Archives housed in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room are listed in the binders labelled, Archive Finding Aids. These binders are kept in the reading room. Each finding aid lists in detail the documents that make up each collection.

The University of Waterloo Archives houses official records of the University of Waterloo, including correspondence, reports, minutes, publications, architectural and building plans, photographs, ephemera, and memorabilia.

To find primary sources located elsewhere, here are some suggestions:

There are many reference sources available in the library that may be helpful. Ask a staff member for assistance.

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Care and handling of archival material

Original documents are unique and often fragile. You must handle them with care so that they will be preserved for the future.

Use only pencil when making notes, and always keep documents in their original order.

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Suggestions for effective research

For helpful information about how to find and use the library's resources and how to write a research paper, check the Library Guide series.

To find periodical or newspaper articles, consult journal indexes that are appropriate for the topic that you are researching.

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Sample citations for manuscript material

Citations to primary sources held in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room should indicate clearly the source of the material used so that future researchers can locate these materials readily.

A style manual is useful as a guide to the proper format of citations. Ask your professor which style manual is recommended for your course.

The Archives of Ontario has issued a Guide to Citing Archival Records (PDF) that may be helpful.

Please note that the examples below are based on The Chicago Manual of Style. These examples are only included to illustrate the elements that are important in documenting unpublished material. Other styles for citations are equally acceptable.

Sample footnotes:

The first reference should include the complete information necessary to identify the document and its location.

A citation to a letter should include the names of the sender and the recipient, followed by the date of the letter and the collection to which it belongs. It is not necessary to use the word "letter".

Subsequent references to the same collection may be abbreviated.

Other examples:

Elizabeth Smith Shortt, diary entry, 5 May 1912, Elizabeth Smith Shortt fonds, University of Waterloo Library.

Sample bibliography entries:

Bibliography entries should include the name of the author of the collection or the title of the collection and the name of the repository where the collection is kept.

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Suggestions for further reading

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Last Updated: February 7, 2013