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Finding Primary Sources: Tried and True Research Techniques

Two of the most common methods of locating primary source materials are:

Word-of-mouth

Talking to people who have already done work in the field of interest is another way of locating relevant primary sources. Within their area of specialization, these experts are apt to be familiar with a majority of the material written about a given topic as well as the major collections of primary sources that support their research.

If you are a student, one of the most accessible sources should be your professor. But an expert can also be professors at other institutions, renowned historians, or the author of a book or article on a certain topic. The University of Maryland, for example, maintains a list of University of Maryland Experts on a variety of topics on its website.

An expert can also be an eyewitness to an event or experience. For example, important research on the Holocaust has been conducted by interviewing survivors.

Librarians are knowledgeable about the subject areas related to their collections. They often know of similar collections in other institutions or other people doing similar work. They are also the best source for information about materials in their repository that may not be listed in a library catalog, website or finding aid. Contact a librarian at the University of Maryland for assistance with your research project!

Tracing Footnotes and Endnotes

Footnote and endnote tracing is the use of footnotes or endnotes found in books or articles to identify other relevant material. The advantage of using footnotes to locate materials is that they often provide a citation to a specific primary source within a larger collection. Sometimes citations even offer commentary on the cited work. Finally, the use of material in a scholarly work provides a way of judging the usefulness of the material.

Regardless of how you find your information, it is always important to cite sources, so that you may properly credit other work, and so that others may learn from your work and verify your evidence and conclusions. .