Combine keywords relating to your topic with keywords indicating a primary source. For example, search for "Civil War And personal narratives" or "Dust Bowl AND letters."
Think about the time period you’re researching and use appropriate keywords.
- For example, you won’t find newspaper articles from World War II about post traumatic stress disorder because they didn’t use that term. But you could find articles on combat fatigue, a term they used then.
- If you’re looking for documents from ancient Egypt, you might have more luck searching “Ancient Egypt AND inscriptions” than books or diaries.
As you enter your keywords, consider whether primary sources are really going to give you the information you’re looking for.
- For example, you decide to do a paper on the effects of the Columbine shootings on gun legislation. You go to a database or a book to look for primary source documents on the Columbine shootings. You find eyewitness accounts of the shootings, and editorials written in April 1999 speculating about the causes. For a discussion of the effects of the shooting on legislation, you may need a secondary source from ten years later, which analyzes what has happened over time.
- When you want an analysis of a historical event or discussion of effects, that may best be found in a secondary source.