Primary Sources Essay Writing Guide. Where to Find Good Essay Sources?

When working on a research topic, it’s essential to understand what was already said and written about it. A powerful tool, in this case, is a list of reliable sources. In this article, we will go through the basics and details of working with essay literature sources. The main focus will be on primary sources, as they are on the first line of the academic sources hierarchy.
  1. πŸ”‘ What Do You Need to Know about Essay Sources
  2. πŸ”’ Examples of Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Sources
  3. 🧱 Why Does Everyone Need Credible Sources?
  4. 5️⃣ Types of Primary Sources
  5. ✍️ How to Write a Primary Source Essay
  6. πŸ”Ž Looking for Good Essay Sources? Check This

We will help you understand how to cite primary sources and write an excellent essay. Stay with us to find it out!

πŸ”‘ Essay Sources Explained

Once you’ve chosen the topic for your essay, you need to start thinking about writing it. A list of credible sources is what you are going to need in the first place.

So, we suggest you look into different types of academic sources existing out there!

6 Reasons to Make a List of Solid Sources in Your Essay

An essay is not exactly an academic genre. It’s not so strict-ruled and rigid. Still, the use of reliable and secure sources makes your piece wholesome.

Here are the reasons why it’s essential:

  1. Reliable sources back up your opinion. Readers tend to take your point of view if it’s well-grounded.
  2. A variety of literature provides you with other points, perspectives, and ideas: you are not alone in your opinion.
  3. Cited statements make your readers consider and discuss them as a part of the essay.
  4. Figures and data from credible sources add validity to your source essay.
  5. By reading all that literature, you make an impression of a researcher and analyst.
  6. Share the information with your readers so that they can read about the issues themselves.

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary Sources

There is an endless variety of information, both online and offline. How to find what you need? The answer is simple: you just need to know precisely what to search for.

Various sources can fit different purposes and types of works. Let’s dig deeper into their specification!

I. Primary Sources

A primary source is direct, original data designed for further study and analysis. Such sources provide firsthand, authentic information related to an event, phenomenon, or any other subject.

Examples of primary sources are:

  1. Literary works
  2. Artworks: drawings, sketches
  3. Interviews or speeches
  4. Original letters or manuscripts
  5. Authentic documents of legislation or government
  6. Photographs or video recordings

These materials serve as a fundamental base for diverse types of researches. Primary sources are of wide use in historical or literary analysis. Scientific studies and critical commentaries also need primary sources.

There’s a wide range of purposes for which various primary sources serve:

  • For instance, opinion poll findings can be inserted into sociological research.
  • Or let’s take documentary archives: they are essential for an excellent historical monography.
  • For a good essay about a famous person, you will need their lifetime recordings and interviews.

II. Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are on the second level of the authenticity hierarchy. It means someone has already processed the data, analyzed, or critiqued it.

That doesn’t make secondary sources worse or less valid, though. Let’s have a closer look at the examples:

  1. Scholarly articles and books
  2. Any type of criticism (literary, music, or cinematography critique)
  3. Commentaries and reviews
  4. Interpretations, analysis, and synthesis
  5. Famous people’s biographies
  6. Textbooks (may be tertiary)

Secondary sources are usually interpretive. They tend to analyze already existing information pieces. That’s why one can find them in all sorts of scholarly works, surveys, and articles.

  • For example, original scientific articles excerpted from journals are suitable for the literature review.
  • Critical analyses of Malevich’s Manifesto will fit into the art history dissertation.
  • Marylin Monro’s biography can become a part of a famous 50-s actress encyclopedia, as well.

So, secondary sources are directly related to the primary sources – they use them.

III. Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources can be defined as a compilation of both primary and secondary sources together. It includes a thorough summary of organized information and its background.

Look at the examples to grasp the idea:

  1. Handbooks & textbooks
  2. Biographies or compilation of them
  3. Dictionaries & encyclopedias
  4. Guides
  5. Card indexes and catalogs
  6. Databases

A tertiary source lets you get easy and fast access to a large amount of data. They are accommodating for extensive surveys and researches.

  • Let’s take an essay on the abortion issue. You’re going to need figures and statistics from the birth rate data reports to write it.
  • Another example is a scholarly work studying American poets of the late 40s. More likely, you’ll need a catalog with specific names, so you can understand what to search.
  • Or, you’re studying psychiatry and are about to write a term paper on addictions affecting people’s lives. In that case, a guidebook on different types of addictions will be of great value for you.

πŸ”’ Primary, Secondary, Tertiary… It’s All Relative

Any document or piece of information can be primary, secondary, or tertiary.

It depends on the way you treat it.

Your exact question and a research focus play a decisive role while identifying the sources.

Let’s get a more precise understanding of this with the help of some good examples.

Documentary films as primary or secondary sources If you’re exploring the effects of the Civil War, the secondary sources to work with are documentaries dedicated to it. If you research how the effects are presented in the documentaries, these films become the primary source.
Critical reviews as primary or secondary sourcesIf your essay focuses on Walter Whitman’s poetry, the reviews and interpretations of his works are the secondary sources. But if you study how the critics accepted his poetry, those reviews serve as the primary source.
Catalogs as primary or tertiary sources Catalogs and indexes in any data analysis refer to tertiary sources. It may be that your goal is to analyze the book heritage of a particular library. In that case, the catalog of the books stored in the library is your primary source.
Online articles as primary or tertiary sources If your research question is about the life and art of Norman Rockwell, a biopic about Rockwell is the secondary source, while a Wikipedia article is the tertiary source. But if you are exploring how artists’ biographies are presented on the Internet, Wikipedia may become your primary source.
Statistics as primary or secondary sources Let’s imagine that the research has to explore how different countries display their birth and death statistics. Such an approach makes databases and statistical compendiums your secondary sources, though usually they are considered primary.

🧱 Why Finding Credible Sources Is a Must?

We hope you are now more confident with primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Now let’s get to the rules of defining a list of credible sources.

It’s essential to be picky and attentive when it comes to source selection! Don’t fall upon any text you encounter online, especially if the website isn’t reliable enough.

How to Find Credible Sources?

We suggest you a checklist for recognizing the most valid sources:

  • H-index: check out a publication’s authority according to the Hirsch index. It’s one of the most reliable ways to prove article validity.
  • Make sure the domain is safe. Websites with suspicious domains tend to provide dubious information.
  • Look for some extra information: if you find some relevant source, try to look for references in other sources.

Anyway, the best way to make your paper decent and solid is to double-check all the data you use. Take as a rule analyzing and reflecting upon everything you read.

5️⃣ Types of Primary Sources

Now you know the very fundamentals of working with the sources, it’s time to move on.

The following section is about the types of primary sources.

Are you excited enough to find out what types of primary sources exist there?

5 Common Types of Primary Sources

We offer a list of five types of primary sources that are used pretty often. However, there are many more primary sources out there to study.

Cultural products

  • Items produced within the cultural development of humanity.
  • Different pieces of art and media: paintings, statues, movie tapes, clothing, or jewelry.
  • Such physical evidence evokes imagination and facilitates research capacity. They demand a very consistent approach and have to be treated carefully.

Accounts on people/events/ideas

  • Sources that transfer memories about specific phenomena, people, or occasions.
  • Such items as memoirs, newspapers, chronicles, diaries comprise this scope.
  • These pieces are like time machines that can reconstruct the picture of the past quickly.

Demographic data

  • The information about the population of a particular place or time.
  • Demographic data includes birth and death records and censuses.
  • It has great value because it lets a researcher survey phenomena and processes related to the population.

Organizations’ records

  • These documents disclose the peculiarities of the work process of an institution.
  • It can be various kinds of archives, databases, church registers.
  • They preserve complex information about employees, transactions, contracts, and other factual data.

Places’ records

  • These are tools containing broad information about geographical locations.
  • Maps, atlases, travel guides, or photographs.
  • They also contribute to a more vivid and detailed picture of the whole situation for the research. All this delivers facts about a definite place, which makes analysis precise and accurate.

✍️ Writing a Primary Source Essay

Is it time to write a primary source essay yet?

Let’s learn how to deal with the primary sources analysis essay in this section.

Keep on reading what we have prepared to master writing essays with reliable sources!

1. What Is a Primary Source Essay?

A primary source essay is writing where you widely and frequently cite primary sources. You have to reflect upon them, analyze, and use them as a foundation for your arguments. For example, it can be an analysis essay studying the logic of literary devices used in the Iliad.

Here are the examples we’ve prepared for you for a better understanding:

  1. Topic: “Analysis of Clyde Griffiths’ character in Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy.”
    Concept: Look for descriptions of Clyde’s character in the book first. Then cite these extracts in your essay while solidifying your opinion.
    Primary sources: The primary source which you are going to use is the novel itself.
  2. Topic: “Analysis of the reasons for low birth rate in Northern countries.”
    Concept: Get down to searching sociological articles dedicated to this issue. Find the information that reveals particular reasons and use it as supporting arguments.
    Primary sources: birth statistics, value surveys, and other data about economic and well-being factors.
  3. Topic: “The peculiarities of female writers’ acceptance in the 1950s.”
    Concept: There must be a lot of criticism written in those years. Search for the most exciting and worth citing pieces, draw the quotations to your writing.
    Primary sources: book reviews, interpretations, newspaper articles of that period
  4. Topic: “Analysis of major turning points of WWII.”
    Concept: You’ll have to look for the sources containing the information on the critical WWII events. Refer to the views of different authors to prove the event was significant.
    Primary sources: books of authoritative historians and memoirs of war participants.
  5. Topic: “How modern female singers are presented in online media”?
    Concept: Head for digital sources dedicated to famous people’s lives, find articles, pictures, and interviews.
    Primary sources: online magazines, journals, and articles.

2. Primary Source Analysis Essay: Writing Guide


You already understand how to use primary sources in your writing. It’s time to comprehend the whole process of writing a primary source essay format in detail.

Are you ready?

Working with the Source

To ensure that a source is reliable and meets all the demands, you should conduct preliminary analysis. Any piece of information and external factors are worth your attention here.

Use this checklist to make yourself sure about source credibility:

  • Learn about the author of the source. Where do they come from, what are their characteristics – social and demographic?
  • Analyze the way the author tries to deliver the message: the style, language, tone. Does it have signs of prejudice or bias? Does the narrative show the author’s full awareness of the issue?
  • Evaluate and describe the context of the document or whatever the source is.
  • Try to find out the exact circumstances and time when the source first appeared.

Introducing the Key Ideas

Are you most likely to have a keen desire to sound persuasive to the audience? Let the readers comprehend the primary focus of research. Give a brief description of the main idea, state a thesis and your opinion before going into details.

Analyzing the Meaning

We have approached the central and the most supplemented part of the essay – its body.

It’s time to go all-in now.

In the central part of the analysis, you should use meticulous details and a thorough description of the essence.

Observe the fundamental points:

  • You aim to prove the significance of the source for the work. Show the value the document or object carries and what questions it answers.
  • Are there other viewpoints on the subject in question? Analyze different approaches and interpretations as well.
  • Also, consider the points where this source isn’t helpful: answers on which questions it fails to give?

Concluding the Analysis

It’s the right moment to wind up with your primary source essay.

The process doesn’t differ much from that of any other type of essay. The peculiarities of the conclusion may vary depending on the research question.

  • Comprise and sum up all your ideas and thoughts.
  • Draw a consistent summary based on everything you’ve discussed in your writing.
  • Repeat the value and novelty of using your primary sources one more time.

3. How to Cite a Primary Source?

The final step is to cite primary sources properly. There can be a great variety of them. For instance, you may have to cite primary sources from a book or website.

It may happen that you’ll have to cite sources both inside the text and in the bibliography list:

We’ll give you examples of how to cite a book or refer to a picture you use in the text.

How to Cite Primary Sources in Text

The citation appears right in the text.

Chicago StyleFrank Cowperwood, even at ten, was a natural-born leader. (Dreiser 1912, 3)
APA StyleThese thoughts were in my mind as I gazed on the legendary figure of Ubertino. (Eco, 1980/1992)*
*The citation includes both the year it was written and translated.
MLA Style
Matisse, Henri. Goldfish. 1911. Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia.

How to Cite Primary Sources in Bibliography

Let’s see how to cite a source in the bibliography list now.

Chicago Style
  • Frank Cowperwood, even at ten, was a natural-born leader.
  • Dreiser, T. 1912. The Financier. New York, HarperCollins Publishers LLC.
APA Style
  • These thoughts were in my mind as I gazed on the legendary figure of Ubertino.
  • Eco, U. (1992). The Name of the Rose. (W. Weaver, Trans.). Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd. (Original work published 1980)
MLA Style
  • Matisse, Henri. Goldfish. 1911. Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia. WikiArt. Web. 29 May. 2021.

πŸ”Ž Where to Find Good Essay Sources?


If you are at this point, you know how to write an excellent primary source analysis essay. You definitely got an idea of how to cite primary sources for it.

It’s a good deal of work!

Now you wonder where to find good sources, do you?

No worries, we’ve prepared a list of reliable and trustworthy websites for you:

Academic Sources: Search Engines and Individual Publishers
Directory of Open Access Journals
Aosis Open Journals
Taylor & Francis
Copernicus Publications
Highwire free online full-text articles
Hindawi Publishing Corporation
Open Book Publishers
Open Edition
Public Library of Science
The Company of Biologists

University Libraries with Open Access Policies

MIT Libraries
Harvard Library Databases
Yale Digital Collections Center
University of Hawaii Library
Columbia University Libraries

Open Access to Academic Sources – Full-Text Articles

Academic Journals
Open Library (JSTOR’s project)
National Agricultural Library
AGRIS Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
Arachne (Archaeology, Art History database)
Arnetminer (Computer Science database)
arXiv Cornell University Library

Hopefully, you’ll have no problem accessing the academic sources you need.

And that takes us to the final checklist. Go through this list and figure your strong and weak sides.

Well done, mate!
Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.
Well done, mate!
How Well Can You Work with Sources?
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We wish you lots of inspiration and good luck πŸ€

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