How to Find Primary Sources

Primary sources are documents that are direct records of an event, raw data, documents, magazines or newspapers from the time, photos or other material created at the time of an event. Even audio recordings, buildings, or just about anything could be considered primary sources.

Our historical primary source databases are located here.

Again, if you’re working in the field of history, you can search our catalog for published collections of primary sources.

Our history maven Margaret Vavarek suggests the searching the following key words in the catalog: Correspondence, Description and Travel, Diaries, Interviews, Personal Narratives, Sources, Letters or Speeches

Another way to identify primary sources is to go to Dissertation Theses Full Text, find relevant dissertations (they are fulltext online) and read their bibliographies.  You could then search to see if we our other libraries have the primary sources mentioned in these bibliographies.

Primary sources in other disciplines can mean studies, experiment results or original research. These can be found by searching the appropriate databases and finding articles that contain primary research results.

The Internet Wayback Machine Archives The Web

The Internet changes constantly. Ever wonder what happens to content that’s taken down?

A handful (but growing) number of organizations archive web content. A “picture” is taken every few days and stored.

The main Internet archive is called the Wayback Machine.

From The Economist:

The Wayback Machine’s inventor, Brewster Kahle, is an internet entrepreneur, philanthropist and computer whizz who helped design Mr Hillis’s ground-breaking Connection Machine in the 1980s. In 1996 he founded a non-profit organisation, the Internet Archive, to create a free internet library capable of storing a copy of every web page of every website ever to go online. The Wayback Machine allows users to view the library’s archived web pages as they appeared when published. Today the Internet Archive also includes texts, audio, moving images and software. At the last count, its collection contained more than 150 billion items.

Search The Wayback Machine Here

Even though we have the Wayback Machine, it is not a perfect solution and does not capture all of the web. Here’s a critique of our current storage methods of the web. 

How To Find Keywords Within 5 Words of Each Other

Bet you didn’t know about “proximity” searches in the Ebscohost family of databases. These commands allow you to search 2 words that occur in the text near each other.

The upshot of which is: the article is more likely to be written about your topic if your words occur close to one other.

(Ebscohost is the name of the publisher that brings you several of our databases. You may know them by their proper names, like Academic Search. Once inside an Ebsco database, you can always “choose databases” to search several Ebscohost databases at once.)

Here’s the official directions from Ebscohost:

Proximity Searches

You can use a proximity search to search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the databases. Proximity searching is used with a Keyword or Boolean search.

The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:

Near Operator (N) – N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.

For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.

Within Operator (W) – In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.

For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.

In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:

  • (baseball or football or basketball) N5 (teams or players)
  • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)

How to Use Google Scholar (Or Not)

Google Scholar searches the contents of many (but not all) academic journals. However, it does not provide access to the fulltext material. If you are off-campus, you will be prompted to log in or buy the article.

If you follow the Alkek Library link to Google Scholar here, you will have to sign in ONCE with your NET ID and then it’s all clear sailing.

In any case, please don’t buy the article – you can get it through us.  If you hit a dead end, use interlibrary loan.

Google Scholar does not search ALL the scholarly literature because some publishers restrict access.

Annual Reviews Database Presents Bibliographic Essays of Key Works

Annual Reviews is a wonderful database that presents bibliographic essays on your academic topic. These essays will explain our current state of understanding the topic as well as listing the important articles and books that you need to read.

These essays provide an effective means of context and deeper understanding of the problem you are researching. You didn’t have to read a sketchy Wikipedia article either!

Search Palgrave’s Reference Sources for High-Level Research Help

This is one of my go-to sources for in-depth introductions and entries on complex topics. This is much better than Wikipedia or general encyclopedias. When people start doing research they very often need summaries of their pretty intricate topic. How else are you going to understand those complex journal articles?

All Palgrave’s books here – including online!

 

Alkek Library vs. Google (Video Tutorial)

Google does not search all the information in the world! Even though libraries and other institutions make their resources available full text online, Google does not search these web sites (otherwise known as the deep web).

Instead, what you’ll typically get on a Google search is a lot of random info that won’t be of use to you in writing an academic paper.

Video tutorial below:

 

Wikipedia Hoaxes News Roundup

Here are some recent articles documenting maliciously wrong Wikipedia information, and even some articles about entirely fictitious entities. In many cases, the wrong information stayed on Wikipedia for years and was cited by other sources. Food for thought if you are using Wikipedia.

I Accidentally Started a Wikipedia Hoax

The 10 Biggest Hoaxes In  Wikipedia’s First 10 Years

Read About the Infamous Nonexistent Battle That Stayed on Wikipedia for Five Years

Wikipedia’s own entry on Wikipedia Hoaxes (yes, we know)

 

Getting Book Reviews And Why They’re Important

Don’t forget book reviews! Most databases will allow you to select book reviews as a source type. Reason: find out a book’s reputation, any hidden context, its significance among experts, and any problems with the book. Most authors are pretty persuasive and you need a second opinion.

Be sure to limit results to “review” or “book review,” depending on the interface.

Complete list of book review databases here

Favorites:

New York Times archives is a good option for nonacademic books published before 2006.

JSTOR is another good one for many subjects.

Wilson OmniFile FullText. A good grabbag. You can limit it to search “book reviews” by a particular discipline.

These are not your only options but are some of the best. You can always check your favorite database to see if it has book reviews.