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Finding Primary Sources: Citing Primary Sources

Why Cite Sources?

Citing sources, whether using primary or secondary materials, is fundamental to academic research and writing. Not doing so can lead to charges of plagiarism or fabrication of evidence. In the case of special collections, your citations provide readers and future researchers with a guide to the materials you have used as evidence for your argument, as well as a source for others to trace your footnotes for their own research.

How to Cite Primary Sources

Methods for citing primary sources, especially archival and manuscript collections, may differ from citation styles for books and articles. The discipline in which you are writing, house styles for particular organizations, and class requirements can dictate the citation system you should use for your research. Popular systems include MLA, Chicago/Turabian, Chicago/Turabian parenthetical (author-date), APA, and many more. Additionally, pay attention to the repository's suggestions for citing their own materials.

For example...

The University of Maryland Libraries request that citations from special collections materials contain the credit line:

Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries

In addition, it is useful to add enough identifying information so that a subsequent researcher may locate materials based on the citation.

Letter to John M. Steffey, November 12, 1963. Spiro T. Agnew Papers, Series I, Subseries 1, Box 1, "Personal Correspondence" folder, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.